After passionate arguments on both sides, the Middletown Common Council became the second municipality in Connecticut to green-light a lease for a medical marijuana production facility to be built in a city-owned building on Monday 6-3.
The lease with Fairfield-based Greenbelt Management at 180 Johnson St., — the former Remington Rand warehouse — is contingent on the firm being awarded one of the three to 10 licenses that would be issued by the state Department of Consumer Protection. They'll have to pay $25,000 to the city of Middletown as a non-refundable lease fee.
Principal partner of Greenbelt Jason Nickerson was "thrilled" with the passage and admitted to being unsure of how councilors would vote on the matter. "I was on the edge of my seat a little bit. We had other backup plans in mind, but I'd really like it to be in Middletown," he said.
He pointed to a meeting Aug. 27 in which he was optimistic about moving toward getting a production license from the state. Last month, West Haven's planning and zoning board approved a request from Advanced Grow Labs. Watertown and Bridgeport have firms moving forward with the state license process.
Republican councilors Linda Salafia, Phil Pessina and Joseph Bibisi voted against the resolution. Pessina, referring to his 40 years in law enforcement, said he was "standing on principle."
"I'm not truly convinced ... that medical marijuana does what it does," Pessina said. Referring to a police officer he knew who was dying of cancer, he said, "he stood on his deathbed and he fought against this drug and he did not take marijuana to ease his pain and suffering because he stood on principle."
Councilman Todd Berch, who co-sponsored the resolution, was adamant. "The issue is: are we going to be leasing the building? The principal itself has already been battled in the state house, both chambers. In Washington, the same thing. That's not our fight."
He likened the lease approval consideration to a firm asking to manufacture poker chips, saying, "gambling's not legal."
"Our fight is the legality of the issue of leasing a building to somebody that is abiding by state regulations."
Bibisi, speaking directly to Greenbelt parties in the audience, said, "If you were growing tomatoes, I'd vote for you tomorrow."
Meanwhile, Councilman Robert Santangelo, himself a drug and alcohol counselor who supported the measure, said, "if a substance is being sold legally with a prescription, it's medicine, and if it's being sold in a back alley somewhere, it's a drug."
He pointed to folks who have had novocaine at the dentist, adding that those who are injected with this local anesthetic would test positive for trace amounts of cocaine in a drug test.
Remington Rand's tenants include a diverse mix of businesses, including several fitness studios, a custom motorcycle builder, landscaping companies and an automated mail processor. Soon, Stubborn Beauty Brewery will open and both Sow Fresh Organics and Forest City Brewery have applied to Middletown's zoning board for leases in the former Keating Wheel Co. and typewriter factory, which was built in 1896.
Last October, it became legal in Connecticut to buy and sell marijuana for medicinal purposes. Connecticut's 76-page Revised Regulation Concerning Palliative Use of Marijuana details a highly regulated licensing system and must be submitted by legislators to the General Assembly's Regulation Review Committee.
According to state Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein, the regulations will most likely appear on the agenda for the committee's August meeting. If approved, the state would then issue a call for applications that would include the total number of licenses expected to be given.
Still, Some small business owners at the Remington Rand factory are worried about a pot growing and packaging firm potentially hurting their business.
During the public comment session, Ryan Kennedy and Ken McClellan voiced their concerns with the issue. McClellan said he was disappointed to see the medical marijuana issue on the agenda again."It's disappointing to see the city involved as an accessory to a federal crime. Federal law supercedes state law," he said.
Kennedy said he was disturbed with the city owning the Remington Rand building and leasing it to Greenbelt, explaining that private business owners with similarly large facilities would not have a chance to have their building occupied.
Earlier in the evening, during the questions to the directors portion of the meeting, Middletown Police Chief William McKenna said the crime rate at the Remington Rand building was low, citing a woman's death last October and the theft last week of $20,000 worth of equipment from a storage area at the Remington Rand building.
McKenna said officers on the North End beat conducted routine property checks at the building during their shift and perhaps down the line the installation of city cameras at this city-owned building might be in order.
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