Six Connecticut Mayors React To Gov. Lamont’s Plan For Legal Marijuana

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On Feb. 10, Gov. Ned Lamont released a plan to legalize recreational marijuana in Connecticut, saying that he anticipates the state will start to see revenue from cannabis sales as early as next year.

In the Governor’s proposal, much of that anticipated revenue, including an optional 3 percent local excise tax, would go directly to municipalities.

In an effort to better understand local responses to the plan, Connecticut Examiner checked in with six mayors from across the state to ask their thoughts on the proposal and what legal marijuana could mean for their municipalities.

As a former police chief, I have feelings on both sides. When I joined the police department, they told us that marijuana was a gateway drug, but also that if you legalized marijuana, people might be inclined to go to the dispensary rather than dealing with somebody in the street who has other drugs available and would be all too happy to introduce them to those drugs.

In Norwalk, we’re looking for different ways to reduce our property tax base and make sure we don’t tax our people out. We’d obviously very strongly consider implementing that excise tax that would help bring in revenue to the city that would allow us to give some relief to our property owners.

– Mayor Harry Rilling, Norwalk

In my first year as mayor, medical marijuana had recently been approved, and I fought like hell to get a production facility in New Britain. Unfortunately, in the state bidding process, they chose Bristol over us, but I think that for all leaders of municipalities that are struggling financially and looking for alternate revenue sources, this is a no-brainer way to get additional tax dollars directly into your city.

There’s no doubt in my mind that we’d exercise our right to put that excise tax on and get what we can get from it. We’re never going to turn down an alternate revenue source like that. The city budget rarely decreases, cost of living goes up and contract obligations go up, so I would want to put that money directly into the general fund. If the final legislation asks municipalities to lock it in for specific purposes, I would pick road maintenance, but I’d ideally use it to supplement general fund activities and operations.

I support legalization. When you look at what’s happening in states around us, we have really lost a huge market here with everyone driving to Massachusetts in droves. We should’ve done this years ago, and not just for revenue. Having my police department prosecute pot dealers in town selling a gram of weed to their friends is such a waste of resources when we have much larger problems we need to go after.

– Mayor Erin Stewart, New Britain

I supported the drive for medical marijuana and wanted a dispensary here in Norwich, though it ended up going to Montville. To me, the benefits of medical marijuana outweighed any opposition I had to legalizing drugs. But I don’t support legalizing recreational marijuana. My police chief thinks it’s a bad idea, he is very emphatic that he thinks it’s wrong and that if people experiment with marijuana, they will experiment with other things.

But if the state does legalize recreational marijuana, I would not oppose a dispensary in Norwich. If the will of the state legislature and governor is that this will be the policy in the state, I think it would be foolish to ignore the opportunities it presents. As far as the optional excise tax, that’s an option a poor town must explore. If the majority passes policy, you work with it. You don’t just sit there and stamp your feet and say you didn’t want this.

– Mayor Peter Nystrom, Norwich

Eight years ago, we were one of the locations that had one of the original medical marijuana dispensaries. It just went through the regular zoning process, and we looked at it the same way we look at all businesses: adequacy of parking, traffic flow, signage, and whether it fit within the zone. We had zero problems with the dispensary that came into Bristol, and I believe that with recreational marijuana, we’d be looking at it within those same parameters, and we’d want the state to take an active role regulating the rollout.

We on the municipal level get caught a lot with reduced funding from the federal and and state government, so while I welcome the opportunity for more funds, I also think I would want the state to fund municipalities in other ways, like with education grants, rather than adding yet another tax on top of something for someone. I’m not sure where we’d go with that locally at this time. When they throw us these little bones, I’m not sure how beneficial they are when I’m still struggling to get funding for special education and it gets prorated every year for millions of dollars.

– Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, Bristol

I support legalization at the state level, and I think at this point it’s a when question now more than an if question. I’m a big supporter of legalization, but from what I’m reading, people still have a lot of concerns with this proposal from an equity standpoint, but I’m confident those will get ironed out. I think Middletown would be a great location for a dispensary. There is a medical dispensary right over the line in Meridien, and we would be interested to learn from their example, but I think the recreational element of it would add a lot of customers and additional factors to consider.

I’d want to do more research on the excise tax, but on first blush, I’d say yes, Middletown would want to take advantage of that. At the municipal level, we don’t get a lot of tools of our own to raise revenue other than property taxes. I do think we need to fund initiatives to get accurate information out about when it is unsafe, like before the brain has developed and while driving. Having revenue that cities and towns can make decisions about how best to use it would be useful tool. It would help us make sure we’re investing in getting the right information out to people.

– Mayor Benjamin Florsheim, Middletown

In a time when we are facing serious fiscal challenges in many urban centers, I am in favor of the state finding new revenue streams that can be used to benefit all our municipalities. If the General Assembly legalizes marijuana during this session, then communities that were historically negatively impacted should benefit with access to the industry and funding to help rectify these negative impacts in the community; also, I feel it’s time we expunged nonviolent marijuana offenders to create a real second chance for those trying to make ends meet.

– Mayor Justin Elicker, New Haven