By Julie Stagis, Hartford Courant
WEST HARTFORD — West Hartford on Tuesday became the latest in a string of Connecticut towns to enact a moratorium on medical marijuana growers and dispensaries after a unanimous town council vote.
Under the adopted ordinance, the town has up to nine months to revise zoning codes to regulate “marijuana dispensary facilities, marijuana production facilities [or] pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities” before any are allowed in town. The moratorium could end sooner if such regulations are adopted prior to the nine-month mark.
Because of the length of the moratorium, West Hartford will probably not see any manufacturers or dispensaries during the first round of licensing by the state. State officials expect to award three licenses for marijuana producers and three to five licenses for dispensaries in the beginning of 2014; the facilities would be up and running by spring or early summer.
Towns including Shelton, Ansonia, Monroe, Trumbull, Westport and Ridgefield recently adopted similar bans, while others, such as Middletown and Newington, are working to draft rules governing such facilities.
West Hartford’s decision came after a lengthy public hearing at which State Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein and Tracey Gamer-Fanning, who has lived for seven years with terminal brain cancer, testified against the moratorium.
Gamer-Fanning, the 43-year-old president and founder of The Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance, said that she did not “take her medicine” — use marijuana — before the meeting. She began to shake so hard that her husband, Greg Shimer, joined her at the podium midway through her testimony to hold her up.
When Gamer-Fanning was diagnosed in 2006 at 36, she was given a three- to five-year life expectancy. She described trying to raise her two young children while dealing with seizures and debilitating pain that made her a prisoner to various drugs, confined to her bed. She said that she has taken medical marijuana since 2008.
“Medical marijuana is doing things now and people are looking at it. They’re looking at me because I shouldn’t be here,” she said. “I have to go to the street to buy black market marijuana so that I can make dinner.”
“That’s what this is about,” she said. “This is about patients; this is not about recreation, this is about people.”
Rubenstein, who also lives in town, said that the state carefully designed its regulations to consider the needs of patients and communities and urged the council not to delay the possibility of facilities in town. He spent more than a half-hour answering questions from members of the council.
“We’ve already done the heavy lifting,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to come up with something that protects the interest of patients and the interest of the community better than what we’ve done.”
During their discussion, all eight council members — Mayor Scott Slifka was away on business — said they appreciated the commissioner’s testimony and many said they were moved by Gamer-Fanning’s comments, but that they needed time to hear from the rest of the community. Alternate member Bernard Kavaler voted but did not comment.
Several members said they would work to develop and pass regulations quickly.
“Balance is a word we often use up here when we are weighing the interests of the entire public of West Hartford,” said Burke Doar, a Republican council member. “It struck me that many times during the public hearing, there was discussion about the exhaustive extent of these regulations — clearly, there’s a lot of regulations on it because we want to get it right.”
“I am so proud that Tracey Fanning is a West Hartford resident, and [of] all she has done for people around her. … We all are so compelled to help her today in whatever way we can,” said Deputy Mayor Shari Cantor. “We feel we can help her best if we get the public support to do this, and we need some time to do that.”
“We haven’t done enough listening yet. We need to listen to not only the people that need this medicine … we need to listen to the community, the areas that these [facilities] could be,” she said.
In Ridgefield, the planning and zoning commission passed a one-year moratorium last week at a meeting in which only one member of the public spoke; he was against the measure.
“Our moratorium is in order to review and write regulations that we don’t already have,” said commission Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti.
The commission took up the issue “on the advice of the director of planning, who had received several phone calls of interest, people inquiring if Ridgefield had regulations on what the state had allowed,” she said. “We don’t.”
“Before we start getting applications, which some towns and cities already are, we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity the statute provides to give us a chance to review the state regulations,” which are 76 pages long, Mucchetti said. The town has established a subcommittee to explore the issue, she said.
Some towns, including Middletown and Newington, began talking about how to regulate facilities in September, shortly after a legislative committee passed regulations in August. The state legislature approved medical marijuana last year.
As of Tuesday, there were about 1,200 patients licensed to use medical marijuana in the state, according to Rubenstein.