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Stamford after-school program may get cannabis dispensary as neighbor

Eddy Martinez
Connecticut Public
Idania Galicia joins her children at Building One Community where a cannabis dispensary may open next door.

The after-school program at Building One Community offers more than just tutoring, according to Idania Galicia. Her son is one of 45 Stamford Public Schools students who attend the program.

“This is a pleasant and safe location, my son has come here since kindergarten and they help many families,” Galicia said.

Galicia might feel differently in a short while if a cannabis dispensary by Ayr Wellness gets zoning approval to open next door at Building One’s location on 417 Shippan Ave.

While cannabis dispensaries are highly regulated by state authorities, Galicia thinks it normalizes drug use for children who attend the program.

But she might be out of luck, because while the program is in many ways considered an extension of the public school system according to Building One Community staff, the location is not a traditional school, so the dispensary could set up shop, a quirk of the city’s zoning regulations for cannabis retailers.

Development and External Relations Director Elena Perez said she hopes the zoning board will reconsider when it decides on the building application.

“What we have is trust that the zoning board will understand, and will listen to the community, and that they will do the right thing to protect the kids the same way that they are protecting the kids in schools,” Perez said.

Various community groups held a rally earlier this week criticizing the wellness center. Ayr Wellness’ applicant, an attorney's office, did not respond to Connecticut Public’s requests for comment.

Perez said what the dispensary is doing is legal, the result of the state legalizing recreational sales of cannabis products. But she and Lorely Peche, the family and individual services director, say for parents, many of whom are not proficient in English, the site’s inviting nature may be put at risk due to the dispensary, if it gets approval.

The building isn’t a traditional school, but if it were, the dispensary would have to open at least a 1,000 feet away from the location. Peche knows it’s not one, but the center, which she said has a close relationship with the city’s school district, is considered part of the schools.

“Even though we're not really specifically a school building, we’re considered by the families part of the Stamford public schools district, right, we're sort of an extension,” Peche said.

While staff and Galicia are against the dispensary opening within steps of the center, dispensaries across the state are forbidden from selling their products to anyone below the age of 21, similarly to liquor sellers. Their products must be packaged in a way that doesn’t appeal to children, among other regulations.

Galicia said opening a dispensary near impressionable children creates a pandora’s box situation.

“I don’t want my son looking at that, many people coming over to buy, or smoke outside, like they do at the parks.”

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