Could Waterbury Become the Center of Connecticut's Pot-Growing Universe?

Connecticut Economic DevelopmentPoliticsChemical IndustryPharmaceutical IndustryJohn RowlandPhilip Giordano

Waterbury isn’t the first place in Connecticut you might associate with marijuana growing. After all, it’s a conservative little city known more for political corruption than the cultivation of high-class weed.

(Both disgraced governor-turned-radio-jock John Rowland and still-incarcerated-pedofile-and-former-mayor Philip Giordano called Waterbury their home town.)

But the city’s economic development director, Ron Pugliese, says Waterbury might be an excellent place for a legalized medical marijuana grow facility.

Pugliese recently gave tours to two different groups of business types checking out possible pot-growing sites. He says there are several “perfect locations” in the city that could be turned into serious legal grow facilities.

“I’m not sure all this is going to work out,” Pugliese cautions, pointing out that the state still hasn’t approved the regulations and licensing procedures that will be needed before any legal marijuana can be grown in Connecticut.

Connecticut’s medical marijuana law only took effect on Oct. 1 and state officials say they’re working to get the production and distribution system worked out by next summer. So far, 16 other states have legalized some form of medical marijuana despite the federal governments continued opposition.

Still, Pugliese isn’t at all shy about promoting Waterbury as a possible location for one of the legalized growing operations authorized under legislation that passed the General Assembly earlier this year. State officials are working on plans to have at least three and possibly as many as 10 medical pot growing operations in this state.

That prospect has investors and medical marijuana types drooling. We’re talking about potentially tens of millions of dollars in pot sales to thousands of Connecticut patients with debilitating illnesses or conditions and a doctor’s recommendation.

Connecticut’s law is designed to avoid the sort of free-wheeling medical pot growing and dispensary action that’s brought federal raids in places like California, Oregon and Colorado. In this state, legal marijuana growers will be tightly regulated in the same way pharmaceutical companies are, and distribution will be through approved pharmacies.

Pugliese says he’s been told that it will take a minimum of $1.5-$2 million in investment for a marijuana producer to create or renovate a suitable facility.

“That’s an investment, since it’s legal, that I’d like to see in Waterbury,” Pugliese says.

His definition of a “perfect location” for a Waterbury pot growing operation is in an industrial area that’s “off the beaten track” (translation: not in a residential or regular commercial business neighborhood), with good access to Interstate 84 and Route 8.

Pugliese declined to say which pot companies and marijuana business types he’s given Waterbury tours to, saying that would be premature at this point.

News that Pugliese was showing potential pot cultivators around the city first broke in the Waterbury Republican-American, which happens to be the most conservative daily newspaper in the state.

So far, Pugliese says, he’s gotten no negative feedback from any Waterbury residents upset at the idea of raising medical marijuana in their city. He says he’s had “no response at all” to the news. “Nobody’s even mentioned it to me.”

Pugliese says showing business types and corporate honchos possible locations in Waterbury for their operations is routine. He does admit that taking out-of-state pot growers around is “clearly somewhat unusual” and that there would have to be lots of discussion before anything actually happens.

At the same time, he says that if a company gets a state license and meets all the state regulations for becoming a legal Connecticut pot grower, “Then they’ll be welcome here.”

“If they’re still interested in Waterbury,” Pugliese says, “I’ll find them a spot.”

When he was governor, Rowland used to joke about Waterbury being “the center of the universe.” It would be more than a little weird if his city ended up the center of Connecticut’s pot-growing universe.

 

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