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STAMFORD — The Stamford Zoning Board closed an application for a new cannabis dispensary in Bull’s Head without voting on it Monday night, after a nearly five-hour hearing full of strong opinions both against and for the proposed business.

Sweetspot, a craft cannabis company with four dispensaries across the Northeast, is hoping to become Stamford’s third hybrid cannabis dispensary. The company was founded in 2017 by Stamford locals Jason Webski and Ben Herbst, who are looking to secure a special permit to set up shop in an existing retail building at 111 High Ridge Road — a main artery connecting suburban parts of Stamford with the city’s more densely populated downtown.

But the permitting process drew opposition from the beginning. In March, before the company received a formal city hearing, Stamford Board of Representatives President Jeff Curtis, D-14, notified his constituents on Facebook of the application’s filing. Weeks later, a petition against the proposal by Stamford resident Joseph Andreana began circulating on After Sweetspot owners said the petition was rife with misinformation, a second petition was created, garnering 511 signatures as of Tuesday.

Those opposed to the business have decried the proposed location. It would be in a mixed-use building that also houses multiple children-focused businesses, including tutoring services and a pediatrician’s office.

Anticipation for the hearing could be felt at Zoning Board meetings in recent weeks, as attendees used public hearings about unrelated proposals to talk about Sweetspot. By request, the Zoning Board hired a Spanish-language interpreter for the meeting, whose translation could be heard over an alternate Zoom audio channel.

As of 8 p.m. on Monday night, Land Use Bureau Chief Ralph Blessing said more than 125 members of the public had tuned in to the meeting.

Herbst, Sweetspot Chief Operating Officer Blake Costa and Lisa Feinberg, the attorney representing the company, opened the meeting at 7 p.m. with a presentation aimed at getting out in front of concerns.

Feinberg noted how the building is located in a Neighborhood Business District, known as C-N — the same as Curaleaf, a hybrid dispensary approved in January on the city’s East Side. Stamford’s Zoning Regulations do not explicitly mention recreational cannabis or hybrid cannabis dispensaries, though a revision to establish “use regulations for marijuana and cannabis,” proposed by the Zoning Board is scheduled to be discussed at a Planning Board meeting set for May 23.

To demonstrate security, Costa walked through a video of a customer buying cannabis in the company’s Rhode Island hybrid dispensary. Limited products were stored in a “prep room” to be ready for sales, but most goods were stored in a vault. In-person customers ordered via kiosks, never handling cannabis until receiving their purchases.

The only possible way for cannabis odor to escape would be through the prep room, Costa said. He also directly refuted a claim from the initial petition that Sweetspot would employ an “armed guard.”

“We do a threat and vulnerability analysis of every retail location we go to occupy. We’ve had nothing come up that would require a security guard here. In the event anything ever requires a security guard for operations, at no time would we ever employ an armed security guard,” Costa said.

Members of the Zoning Board drill down on details

The Zoning Board questioned the project team for about an hour and a half.

Board member Gerald Bosak Jr. said he worries the store’s presence will lead children to be more curious about cannabis.

“Especially in that area on High Ridge Road that’s densely populated with (children’s) programs … there is a concern,” Bosak said. “The exposure is going to be there with a facility like that, even though it’s highly regulated.”

As a funeral director by trade, Bosak also cautioned against cannabis as a “gateway” drug and lamented the toll of drug addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some research suggests that cannabis use is likely to precede addiction to other more dangerous substances, however, the finding was also applicable to alcohol and nicotine use.

Chair David Stein asked Costa whether it would be easier or harder to purchase alcohol as a minor. A liquor store, Uncorked, already occupies space in the same building.

“I grew up in Stamford, so I can attest 100 percent that it’s easier for someone to go into a liquor store, to get (alcohol) underage than it would be to come into our location,” Costa said. “We have a gateway, unlike a liquor store where you can walk in, you can handle the product, you can have a bag, you can be out of sight.”

Board member William Morris and alternate Racquel Smith-Anderson questioned the group about traffic and parking. Smith-Anderson asked why the traffic study did not include estimates for a new Whole Foods under construction nearby. David Sullivan of SLR Consulting said it was because the grocery chain is an “as of right use.”

Smith-Anderson also sparred with Feinberg over a comment the attorney made about how children live in all Stamford neighborhoods. Feinberg said children live across town, while adding that in her opinion, smoke shops that sell illicit THC products marketed towards children are more of a safety concern than having Sweetspot in the plaza. Last month, Attorney General William Tong announced plans to sue three Stamford smoke shops accused of selling black-market THC products.

Smith-Anderson took exception with the comment.

“I don’t know if it is that you don’t value the children in our community, but it is a genuine concern of the residents around the proposed site that they don’t want their children being exposed to some things,” Smith-Anderson said. “Yes, liquor exists. Yes, cannabis exists. Yes, pornography exists. But not everyone wants or allows their children to be in view of that and I think you should respect this.”

Feinberg apologized for how her statement was received. She added that she is a mother of two children and her family lives in the neighborhood where the store would stand. She noted that a higher density of people live near Curaleaf on the east side, compared with the proposed Sweetspot location.

“What I was trying to suggest is that there shouldn’t be a difference between whether I live in an apartment or whether I live in a single-family home. A housing unit is a housing unit and children can live in each of those types of housing units,” Feinberg said.

A significant public turnout

The attention then turned to the general public. Forty-six speakers, living across Stamford and surrounding towns, voiced their thoughts on the project. Of those who took the microphone, 27 expressed opposition and 19 supported the proposal.

Those who opposed the project did so for a variety of reasons — primarily, the impact on children who frequent the neighboring businesses and the perceived harms of cannabis, including a 12-year-old girl who was on audio only and appeared to be reading a statement into the video conference. Others asked the Zoning Board to pass new regulations on cannabis dispensaries, including limiting them to one to every 20,000 residents.

“It’s absolutely the wrong place for this facility,” Stamford resident Paula Waldman said. “Please think logically. Set the standards that protect the children. Don’t make High Ridge high.”

Those in support of the proposal talked about the medicinal benefits of cannabis, and pitched legal cannabis as a way to counter the existing black market.

“The devil and the problem is not legal, regulated marijuana. It’s black-market marijuana,” said Michael Berg, a former professional football player who has used cannabis to treat the after-effects of orthopedic surgery.

Ultimately, the discussion came to a standstill without a vote around 11:15 Monday night. Board members requested additional materials from the Sweetspot representatives: a parking chart, a circulation plan and a plan for how deliveries are accepted.

The Board’s next opportunity to vote on the proposal will be at its regularly scheduled meeting on June 5.

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