Is CBD not right for Cedarburg?
Plan Commission denies dispensary request

By Laurie Arendt

May 9, 2019

CEDARBURG — Former mayor and newly appointed Plan Commissioner Kip Kinzel succinctly summed up the CBD debate at Monday night’s Plan Commission meeting. More specifically, if allowing it in downtown Cedarburg was right for the city.

“Some people say it’s snake oil, some people say it’s a miracle drug; the perception is probably somewhere in between,” he said. “But perception is reality here.”

And the perception and protection of Cedarburg’s downtown was at the forefront of the debate over whether petitioner Jennifer Kawczynski, owner of Erth Dispensary, could have a CBD dispensary added as an approved type of business in the B-3 district, which is Cedarburg’s downtown district.

“There are 84 types of businesses listed in your ordinance,” said Kawczynski’s attorney, Jeff Cormell. “‘Variety store’ leaves a lot of discretion. A CBD store is more like a GNC … it’s a wellness store that sells products that provide general health benefits. There are also four other stores in Cedarburg that are already selling CBD products.”

CBD is short for cannabidiol, a substance derived from hemp, which is a member of the cannabis family. Marijuana is also part of this family, but contains low levels of CBD and high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the compound that produces psychoactive effects. CBD contains minute to no amounts of THC.

“My client has been completely transparent about her intent,” added Cormell, noting her frustration over the process and the fact that she has already spent about $10,000 in preparing the former Glad Rags location, W61 N510 Washington Ave., to open a second location. “She could have come in and opened as a Scentsy or an antique store and brought CBD in through the back door as part of the shop, but she didn’t.”

He added that the perception of her business and the intent was wrong. The store does not sell any illegal products and relies on testing for each batch of CBD to show that it is legally able to be sold.

“I get it; it’s confusing,” he said. “This is not marijuana culture, it’s not black lights and hookah pipes. If people are after marijuana – which is illegal – they have no problem getting it; they won’t get it here and this is not the right product if that’s what they’re after.”

For her part, Kawczynski said that she felt she had been issued an occupancy permit after contacting the city and that she had initially been given the green light to proceed with her plans.

“It said ‘occupancy permit’ on it, and I was told at the time to call back when I was ready to open,” she said. “I think there’s been a huge misconception of our products and our family, and we would leave a good footprint downtown.”

Kawczynski has actually already sold CBD products in Cedarburg as a Maxwell Street Days vendor. She also has reserved festival space to sell the products.

Feedback from city residents was mixed, though limited to a few people.

 “Whether or not we already have it in Cedarburg is not the issue, as there are already four different stores selling it,” said Allison Caravella, a Cedarburg mother of three. “The issue is with having it in downtown Cedarburg, where the kids go. It’s just not an appropriate location, it’s not something I want to see front and center when I come out of Sunday brunch with my family. I don’t want to explain the difference (between hemp and marijuana) to my 11-year-old.”

“I’m listening to all these parents, my kids are grown and out of the house,” said resident Jill Nehmer. “When they were in school, a lot of the drug problems were narcotics, and while I’m sure some were purchased in the streets, a lot were taken out of parents’ medicine cabinets.

“Allowing children to go in medicine cabinets is not their problem,” she said of Kawczynski’s business. “That’s our problem. This building is already there, they’re just putting their name on it. That’s all she’s asking for, to be a good part of this community. It’s not going to be teenagers going in there, it’s going to be a 50-year-old with cancer, or their pets have cancer, going in there.”

Reaction from Plan Commissioners was also mixed. Commissioner Pat Thome concurred with Caravella’s line of thinking about downtown Cedarburg.

“This is where our kids congregate,” she said. “We know when there is a half-day of school because the kids are downtown, which is great. I’m concerned about this particular store in our downtown, of the perception of our kids and their perspective.”

Mayor Mike O’Keefe, a recently retired police officer for the city of Glendale, also addressed the gray area between CBD products and marijuana culture, and referenced some of the products sold on Erth Dispensary’s website.

“Smoking kits and ceramic bowls are things I’ve been pulling out of cars for 29 years as drug paraphernalia,” he said. “Our historic district is our bread and butter; it’s what separates us from other communities. We are very protective of that.”

“As a police officer trying to decide whether someone has a hemp flower or a marijuana flower, it’s a nightmare,” added Kinzel.

While the Bay View location of Erth Dispensary sells hemp buds or flowers, Kawczynski said she has no intent to sell them in Cedarburg, but commissioners also noted that didn’t preclude her from adding them to the Cedarburg location at a later date. Her attorney suggested that language could be added to the ordinance that would provide parameters regarding this.

“We don’t go in and add a line to describe all the things someone can sell,” said Thome. “That would be unusual; that’s not our practice (for businesses).”

“The fact that CBD dispensary is not listed isn’t a surprise to anyone,” said Commissioner Adam Voltz. “The zoning text was written before this. … We could listen to the arguments for and against, but hemp and CBD is legal in Wisconsin. If we’re trying to protect the downtown, it will go elsewhere. I think in our position, we don’t have anything to stop this from coming.”

City Planner Jon Censky also brought up the concept of possibly directing Kawczynski to open in the city’s South Business District, which is zoned B-2.

“But Jen has a building in B-3, in the downtown,” said her attorney. “It’s not the question she’s bringing before your board.”

Ultimately, O’Keefe made a motion to deny the request, which was seconded by Thome and passed with Voltz in opposition. Commissioners Sig Strautmanis and Mark Burgoyne were absent.

O’Keefe also noted that though the Plan Commission has denied it, the request will still be discussed at a public hearing and go before the Common Council. The Plan Commission acts as an advisory body to the Common Council, which can decide to take the recommendation or not.

“I think this is a topic that is worth a lot more discussion,” said Commissioner Heather Cain.

“I don’t like to kick the can down the road, but different people have different opinions and we need to hear more of them,” agreed O’Keefe.

A public hearing on the request is scheduled for Monday, June 10 at 7 p.m. in the Common Council chambers.

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