Hamden cannabis rules could bring back High Bazaar, other events

Photo of Meghan Friedmann
Hundreds of patrons cycle through the High Bazaar cannabis party at 18 Crest Way in Hamden, Jan. 15, 2021.

Hundreds of patrons cycle through the High Bazaar cannabis party at 18 Crest Way in Hamden, Jan. 15, 2021.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

HAMDEN — A cannabis business incubator could be in Hamden’s future, as could temporary cannabis events like the High Bazaar.

Both would be allowed, with restrictions, under a proposed set of zoning regulations that also permit cannabis entrepreneurs to set up shop in certain parts of town.

The Planning & Zoning Commission is scheduled to discuss the proposal Tuesday, when it can decide whether to request changes or move forward and schedule a public hearing, said Town Planner Eugene Livshits.

Though the draft specifically addresses retail establishments, a corresponding zoning chart applicable to other license types such as cultivation and manufacturing also will go before the commission, said Director of Economic Development Erik Johnson.

Depending on the type of license, cannabis establishments would be allowed in certain transect zones or in manufacturing zones, the chart shows. Those wishing to open such establishments would need to submit a special permit or a site plan application, per the chart.

In addition to limiting precisely where cannabis retail establishments could be located — at least 500 feet away from a school and no closer than 250 feet from each other — the proposed regulations outline two rather unusual provisions.

The first would create an exception to the rule regulating the proximity of cannabis establishments and allows one “accelerator establishment,” with up to four cannabis businesses, to open in town.

Concerns about social equity inspired the provision, said Johnson, who guided a cannabis task force in drafting regulations. It is the same idea behind any business incubator, Johnson said: that allowing fledgling businesses to co-locate and share resources makes them “more likely to be successful.”

The goal is to support efforts to grow cannabis business opportunities in Disproportionately Impacted Areas, or DIAs, Johnson said.

DIAs are communities the state has found to be disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition. The Highwood neighborhood of southern Hamden, also known as Newhall, is considered a DIA, according to a state data portal.

For cannabis ventures that are not “backed by big dollars,” Johnson said, an incubator could help them get off the ground.

The concept found favor with Legislative Council member Abdul Osmanu, D-3.

“I’m pro-legalization but … if we’re actually legalizing things let’s make sure that we’re addressing the systemic inequities at the same time,” he said.

When cannabis was illegal, Osmanu said, people of color were “wrongly overpoliced” in connection with the prohibition. It is important to give people who were victims of the war on drugs a chance at a new beginning, he said.

Told about the business incubator, Osmanu said, “that sounds like an absolutely perfect idea.”

Another aspect of the proposed regulations grew out of challenges the town faced with a popular event known as the High Bazaar, a cannabis “gifting” party.

In early February, Hamden requested and was granted an injunction that stopped the High Bazaar from continuing to take place in a warehouse on Crest Way.

The proposed regulations could allow events like High Bazaar to take place with proper permitting. They outline a process in which organizers can apply for a one-day cannabis event permits.

“We acknowledge that previous events were very popular, and we wanted to make sure that we had a structured, regulated way to allow them to happen,” said Johnson.

It’s not all about altruism, he said, as the town would get 3 percent of all gross profits generated at such events.

Though the proposed regulation includes a number of restrictions, High Bazaar organizer Joseph Accettullo expressed excitement about the proposal, which he said provides a path forward for reestablishing the event.

“What they’re putting together is something that could potentially be a great footprint for other municipalities to follow (because) it takes the whole community into consideration,” he said. “I do appreciate the effort to make (rules around such events) less ambiguous because this is definitely a very progressive way to handle the cannabis event.”

Accettullo felt the town’s template also would give him a platform to lobby for a new kind of cannabis license at the state level — microlicensing, to allow vendors to attend such events.

All cannabis vendors at Hamden events would have to be licensed by the state, according to the regulations, which requires organizers to submit detailed event plans to the town and pay a $500 fee as well as any related policing costs.

The police chief could terminate the event “if determined to be in the best interest of public safety,” the draft regulations say. Each organizer could obtain a maximum of 24 permits per year, and all events would have to take place in a location zoned for assembly.

Johnson hopes the regulations take into account community concerns while considering the needs of the social equity community and creating an environment where businesses can make money, he said.

Hamden benefits financially from helping cannabis businesses, Johnson said. Municipalities can impose a 3 percent sales tax on them.