Members of Bethel’s Zoning Board of Appeals acted equitably, and demonstrated great patience, in agreeing that a medical marijuana dispensary could open on a street off Route 6 in Bethel.
It will be the first place in Fairfield County where people with certain medical conditions and state registration can purchase small amounts of marijuana from a pharmacist — legally — for relief of symptoms that severely affect their lives.
The location of a dispensary is one of the most contentious issues in the town and region this spring and summer.
Once six companies received licenses from the state Department of Consumer Protection to open the first dispensaries, town after town quickly resorted to moratoriums on applications.
The proposal by one of the six, D&B Wellness of Trumbull, was rejected in Bridgeport and was heading for likely rejection in Redding before finally an appropriate site was found in the Stony Hill section of Bethel.
The state consumer protection department approved the location and in April the town’s zoning officer determined that the request met the criteria of the retail zone.
That’s when townspeople got alarmed. Two residents of the Garella Road neighborhood across the highway overpass from the proposed dispensary site appealed. They were concerned, among other things, that their property values would fall. But the dispensary site, vacant since 2007 when a massage parlor closed, is right off a state road, not part of a neighborhood.
From the two hearings conducted by the ZBA, it was clear that townspeople had many other concerns, as well. Some were taking the debate back to whether medical marijuana ought to be legal.
But that fight is over. Connecticut was the 21st state to approve marijuana for medical use and since then Minnesota and New York have followed. The federal government will not interfere with the states on this issue.
Bethel ZBA members are to be commended for giving people ample time express their views. When the first hearing on June 17 lasted three hours, it was continued to July 17 and went for several more hours.
Close to midnight Thursday, after careful point-by-point deliberation and advice from the board attorney, the ZBA members denied the appeal and upheld the zoning officer’s decision.
The board attorney will draft a resolution, which the ZBA will vote on during its next meeting scheduled for Aug. 21.
The members appropriately focused on the merits of the case and did not yield — as they should not — to fears and speculation.
Understandably, it can be difficult for some to accept the controlled sale of a prescribed substance that had been illegal since the 1930s. And the “first of” anything can make people feel uneasy.
But that will change.
In the months and years to come, it will become apparent that the new industry is well regulated by the state.
Bethel will be able to take pride in being among the first to open its doors and allow succorance to those in need of medical relief.
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