One-on-one with Waterbury’s mayor on putting off pot in the Brass City

Cannabis in Connecticut

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — The first day of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Connecticut went up in smoke in Waterbury.

Mayor Neil O’Leary explained to News 8 in an exclusive, one-on-one interview Thursday, his declaration at Wednesday night’s Planning and Zoning meeting to put off any decision on whether to allow marijuana dispensaries for at least one year.

“Certainly one of the things a moratorium would accomplish is it would give us plenty of opportunity to see what’s working in other cities and towns,” said Mayor O’Leary.

He tells News 8 there are still many questions and concerns and his office is getting flooded with calls from concerned residents. One of his – and their – biggest concerns is if the legal selling of pot is allowed in Waterbury, would that make it easier for pot to find its way into the hands of teenagers.

“It is now before the legalization of pot,” he said.

Another concern: that it may lead to more crime on the streets.

“That’s a concern that’s been addressed by many,” he said. “Some experts say that’s absolutely not true, others say it is true.”

News 8 asked what he believes.

“Well, I’m a life-long law enforcement guy,” he replied.

Mayor O’Leary used to be a police officer and the police chief before attaining his seat in City Hall. The city’s current police chief, Fernando Spagnolo, spoke with News 8 about his experience on the streets addressing crime and marijuana’s role in it.

“Throughout my career marijuana has been involved, and an issue, in crimes – crimes of violence, petty crimes…two murder investigations.”

On Wednesday, a day before the legalization of marijuana, Waterbury police raided a home, making a drug bust on Ayers Street.

“They did seize a significant amount of marijuana, some cocaine, and some pills and firearms,” said Sgt. Robert Davis, spokesman for the Waterbury Police Department.

Another significant concern for Mayor O’Leary: how the legalization of pot would impact the city’s addiction and opioids crisis.

“And that’s one of my biggest concerns,” he said. “Is it a gateway drug to other drugs?…We’ve had significant opioids-related issues in this city.”

But, close to where the drug bust was made on Ayers Street, we ran into Joe Rivera. He tells News 8 he is trying to overcome addiction in his life right now and believes the legalization of marijuana could help himself and others in the same boat.

“Me, personally, I just came off methadone,” he said. “I’m trying to fight it myself so maybe marijuana probably would help.” He says he thinks it would help with his anxiety.

Mayor O’Leary says he wants to hear from city residents. He’s planning a public hearing for the end of the month.

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