By Barrett Seaman—
After three public hearings—the last of which ran over three hours, the Dobbs Ferry Board of Trustees voted on Tuesday, November 23rd to opt out of having either a cannabis dispensary or a consumption lounge within the village. The vote followed a lengthy—and largely thoughtful—exchange among residents and board members. The deciding factor, based on comments by the mayor and six trustees, was the uncertainty over regulations yet to be determined by the state and a sense that the year-end deadline was forcing a decision that the trustees were not prepared to make. As Dobbs Trustee Nicole Sullivan said before voting against both dispensaries and lounges, “I don’t think I could, in good conscience, vote to opt in when there are more unknowns than there are knowns.”
Notable in the final vote was the distinction trustees made between dispensaries and lounges. The vote against opting in on dispensaries was four to three; the vote against lounges was six to one.
New York State has given its municipalities until December 31 to decide whether they will opt in or opt out of allowing cannabis dispensaries or consumption lounges within their borders beginning next year. Many local governments, including those in the rivertowns, have been holding public hearings in order to measure public opinion. As with many controversial issues, such sessions tend to be dominated by those with the strongest views—either pro or con.
Villages that have already decided to opt out, including Irvington and Ardsley, have done so specifically because many of the details governing this new industry have not yet been clarified, such as who will get licenses, how many will be issued and other enforcement questions. The opt-outs can also opt back in at a later date, but only after a public petition signed by no less than 20% of voters, which would lead to a referendum at the next election. Proponents of opting in warn that by then it may be too late if all the available licenses have been issued.
Public hearings in the rivertown villages have revealed recognizable categories of opponents and proponents. Those who subscribe to the “reefer madness” theory believe marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs, addiction and, inevitably, crime. Those who believe this also tend to express fear that having a dispensary or consumption lounge will draw “outsiders” into the community.
A second category of opponents, often parents, express fear that even though sale and use of marijuana is limited to those 21 and older, the presence of such facilities will make it easier—and more acceptable—for kids to get hold of it and get high. Also vocal at many hearings were drug and alcohol counselors and therapists, who warned that easy access to marijuana would contribute to existing psychological problems and larger societal dysfunction.
A number of the citizens, backed by law enforcement representatives, raised the issue of impairment and the absence of reliable metrics for police to determine when a driver has had too much.
Those favoring opting in stressed two arguments. The first might be called “wake up and smell the pot” argument, pointing to the widespread use of marijuana already, the success of legalized cannabis in other states and the opportunity the new law offers to bring use and sale under control. The second was fiscal: the law provides that 4% of the state’s overall 13% tax on marijuana sales goes to the municipality, adding potentially millions of dollars to village coffers to be used for civic improvements, or to obviate the need for taxation in other areas. As Mike Love, owner of Tarrytown’s Coffee Labs, put it at his village’s public hearing, “Think about the money and what that can do for the village.”
The villages that have opted out of both dispensaries and consumption lounges say they will re-visit the issue next year after the regulatory smoke clears. Hastings-on-Hudson has voted to allow a dispensary but not a consumption lounge. Sleepy Hollow has taken a laissez faire approach by not voting at all, thus, in essence, opting in by default. In Tarrytown, the only rivertown that remains uncommitted, Mayor Tom Butler says his board will discuss this at its December 1st work session.
Also still undecided is the Town of Greenburgh. Town Supervisor Paul Feiner wrote in an email: “One option we are considering but have not yet decided on: allowing dispensaries only in industrial areas (near Captain Lawrence, for example)” but, like Hastings, no consumption lounges. If the town decides to opt out of all cannabis venues, those villages that have opted in will get the full 4% of revenues generated by sales.Read or leave a comment on this story...