The Orange Board of Selectmen, at its September 8 meeting, adopted an ordinance that prohibits the smoking of tobacco products and the smoking and consumption of cannabis products on all property owned by or under the control of the town. Town Attorney Vincent Marino had drawn up a sample ordinance incorporated into the existing Chapter 307 of the town ordinances, a section that regulates use of public spaces, in particular with regards to alcohol consumption. Governor Ned Lamont earlier this year had signed into law Senate Bill 1201, which legalized cannabis, but at the same time allowed municipalities to regulate the consumption in public spaces.
Marino said he stretched the bounds of the statute by adding the phrase “under control of “ the town – which now includes sidewalks, rights-of-way, fields, schools, playgrounds and the Town Hall. No one will be allowed to smoke outside of private properties, he said. Yet, once the town acquires the Race Brook Country Club, it will continue to operate as a private club and not be affected by this ordinance.
Prior to its vote, the board conducted a public hearing on the issue, but did not receive any input from the public.
Selectmen voted to strike a provision that would prohibit possession of tobacco or cannabis products on town property. In other words, people can carry their pack of cigarettes or baggies when they are attending a public event, but they can’t partake. First Selectman Jim Zeoli said that at limited functions people are allowed to smoke and drink on town-owned property, such as the pavilion or the fairgrounds.
One issue the selectmen did not agree on was whether to ban smoking in outdoor seating areas of restaurants. Selectman Mitch Goldblatt felt strongly that the town should extend the indoor smoking ban to the whole of the outdoor space. “If we go back to allowing restaurants to allow smoking outside – it will happen,” he said. Because of Covid, many people want to enjoy their meal outside, and not be subjected to smoke wafting over from neighboring tables. But without the ordinance in place, restaurant owners may have a tough time enforcing that rule.
Zeoli and Selectman John Carangelo disagreed with that suggestion. They felt it was the state’s job to regulate restaurants. Judy Williams voted with them, and the motion failed, 3-3.
Carangelo asked the town attorney what it would mean if the town did not regulate cannabis. Marino explained if the town did nothing, the state law would apply. There would be nothing to prevent him from going to a baseball game and light up a joint.
He reminded the board that when people consume any intoxicating substance, it impairs their judgment. “You run the risk of causing injury to the general public health, safety and welfare,” he said.
The new Ordinance 307 may not be strictly enforced, especially not at town-wide celebrations, but it is available to invoke “when we want to say NO for some good reason,” he said.
The Plan and Zoning Commission at the same time was working on a regulation allowing cannabis retail, Zeoli said. Each community with a population of 25,000 or fewer can have one cannabis retail outlet, he said, larger communities can have more.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent