BETHEL — After more than three hours of argument, applause and an undeniable lack of air-conditioning at Bethel town hall Tuesday night, the owners D&B Wellness, Inc. still can’t say whether Stony Hill will be the site of Fairfield County’s only medical marijuana dispensary.
The town Zoning Board of Appeals, meeting to hear an appeal of a zoning officer’s approval of an application to open the Compassionate Care Center of Connecticut at 4 Garella Road, called a recess after hearing barely half the arguments pro and con. The matter will be taken up again at its July 15 meeting, leaving D&B in limbo.
But until they’re told they cannot hang their license inside the vacant building at the entrance to the Stony Hill neighborhood, Angela D’Amico and Karen Barski will act as if the approval will stand.
“We’re going forward,” said D’Amico. “We’ll be set to go as soon as we get everything to move forward. ¦We were planning an opening in late August, early September so this doesn’t create a problem for us.”
And roughly the same goes for the state Department of Consumer Protection, which announced the six winners of dispensary licenses in early April.
Should D&B fail to open within four months of the date their license was granted, Sept. 13, the state program could move on without them.
“We’re going to move our program forward whether it’s with six dispensaries or five dispensaries in the near term,” said William Rubenstein, commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection. “But right now we’ll let that process work its way out and react when there’s something to react to.”
What stands in the way of medical marijuana patients finding relief on Garella Road is the appeal filed by residents Michael Moore and Phillip Lombino soon after Palmer approved D&B’s application.
Their main argument is that a dispensary should not be considered a retail use — and thus, not permitted at the Garella Road site — because it is governed by highly specific state regulations and open only to certified medical marijuana patients and not the general public.
“This is the heart of our argument,” Peter Olson, the appellant’s attorney, said in his remarks to the board Tuesday.
But Neil Marcus, the attorney representing D&B Wellness, pointed out that many businesses considered retail stores — among them liquor stores and membership-only wholesale stores like Costco — are technically not open to the general public, either.
A dispensary, like these other examples, is open to the general public so long as patrons fit the requisite qualifications, such as age or payment of membership fees. In this case, patrons must be certified as suffering from one of 11 illnesses the state determined to benefit from marijuana use.
“(Dispensaries are open to the general public) so long as the general public is qualified to make that purchase,” he said.
About 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, the zoning board chair called the meeting to a close and continued the matter to July 15, the latest in a series of setbacks and delays suffered by D&B’s co-owners.
In January, their first proposed location, Stratford, imposed a moratorium on dispensaries, as did most Fairfield County towns. Bridgeport’s Planning and Zoning Commission rejected an application to open there. Redding nixed their application a third time, owing to mistakes in the documents filed with the town;
Finally came Bethel, where zoning officer Steven Palmer gave their application administrative approval just two days before a state deadline for D’Amico and Barski to find a spot to open.
Should the Zoning Board of Appeals ultimately side with the dispensary, they will have to wait only for a supply of marijuana from in-state producers to become available. Rubenstein said growers, who were chosen in February, were given six months to become operational.
“There’s some lead time to growing a crop and making it into a useable product, but we’re anticipating that the earliest of the products will be available by summer’s end,” he said.
[email protected], @domalleynt, 203-731-3350
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