Two towns, two visions for marijuana regulation

Wilmington and Dover take separate approaches

WILMINGTON — Cindy Hayford of the Deerfield Valley Community Partnership, which focuses on prevention efforts in the Deerfield Valley, attended some of the conversations about marijuana and its regulation that have taken place in Dover and Wilmington in recent years. She related her experience in a phone interview to The Commons.

In Dover's case, the town banned marijuana dispensaries last year. Police Chief Randy Johnson launched the effort, and the town held several community meetings and conversations.

Wilmington's Police Chief brought similar concerns to the town manager.

According Hayford, the town is waiting until the commercialization of marijuana is legalized before making any decisions around ordinances.

For Hayford, who works in prevention with area youth, the big issue is creating a healthy and safe environment for kids.

She said that a dispensary on Main Street would send the message that marijuana use is no big deal.

“They're exposed to it as if it's a normal behavior and harmless,” she said.

But substances like marijuana, along with alcohol and opioids, are not harmless on the teenage brain, Hayford added.

According to Hayford, states that have legalized medical marijuana have the highest increase in youth marijuana use.

“When the perception of harm goes down, the use by youth goes up,” she said.

Hayford said that at some of the community meetings she attended, people were concerned that existing products containing the non-psychoactive anti-inflammatory compound cannabidiol (CBD) would be banned along with the marijuana from which it is derived.

To Hayford, CBD and its psychoactive sister compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), aren't equal. CBD does not affect the brain in the same way as THC, and most CBD products are derived from hemp, a different and non-psychoactive plant sibling of marijuana, she said.

Hayford also notes that the main retailer of CBD products in Wilmington is Ratu's Liquor & Market, the state liquor store. This is a good venue for the product because those under 21 don't frequent the business and the CBD products are sold from the back, out of sight of the casual passerby.

That marketing strategy sends a message to kids that is different from sticking a marijuana dispensary on Main Street, Hayford said.

Even if Wilmington eventually allows marijuana businesses in town, Hayford said, she would want to sit with the prospective owners and discuss issues like messaging, signage, and strategies for restricting access by people younger than 21.

Hayford acknowledges that the marijuana discussion is also one of economic development, something many smaller towns desperately need.

But, she adds, economic development still needs to be weighed against the health and welfare of the community.

“Where are you willing to go with that,” she said. “What if [the business] was an adult store that sold adult videos?”

Hayford also reminded community members to look at their town plan. Zoning doesn't exist in a vacuum, she said. It is also about supporting a town's long-term health and vision. How does a business like a marijuana dispensary fit into that vision?

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