BusinessGovernmentThe Northern Westchester Examiner

Peekskill Council Favors Retail Marijuana Dispensaries

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By Rick Pezzullo

The majority of the Peekskill Common Council supports allowing retail marijuana dispensaries to set up shop in city limits.

During a spirited discussion at last week’s work session, councilmembers expressed their views on the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) enacted in New York State on March 31 that legalized recreational pot and gave the green light for retail dispensaries and consumption sites, also known as lounges, to locate in all communities.

Each municipality has until December 31 to adopt a local law that prohibits such businesses, which is referred to as opting out of the regulations. If elected officials take no action, they can pass legislation that governs the hours and location of the businesses.

“We think it’s time for the council to make its intent clear,” City Manager Andy Stewart said when the topic was first brought up on September 20.

Councilwoman Kathie Talbot was the first to show her support for the city not opting out, saying most of the people she has spoken to share her opinion.

“I don’t think it makes any sense for us to opt-out,” she said. “We really have to be leaders. I think it’s clear what we should do. It won’t be harmful to the city.”

Mayor Andre Rainey, Councilwoman Vanessa Agudelo and Councilman Dwight Douglas were also firmly on Talbot’s side.

“I would hate for us to paint a negative picture of marijuana,” Agudelo remarked. “We’re talking about legitimate businesses here. The money is there, and we would absolutely be leaving it on the table if we opt out. We can be making really good use of our money.”

Any tax revenues on local sales of marijuana and other products would be distributed as a 9% excise tax to the state, 3% to the municipality and 1% to the county.

“Opting out would be a grave mistake,” Douglas stressed. “100% this is in our benefit.”

However, Councilwoman Patricia Riley, who is a teacher, vehemently argued Peekskill should join the growing list of municipalities in Westchester that have opted out.

“I understand it’s legal. I understand it’s here to stay. I do have a problem with dispensaries in the City of Peekskill,” Riley said. “I just feel we’re going to send a mixed message doing this. I know people smoke weed. I’m not a prude. If you want to do it, knock yourself out. I just feel uncomfortable right now with this.”

Deputy Mayor Vivian McKenzie, who is running for mayor in November, said she was trying to change the negative image Peekskill has had for years.

“We have always been depicted that Peekskill is the place to get your drugs. I don’t want that for Peekskill,” she said. “All money is not good money.”

Councilman Ramon Fernandez said he wanted to hear input from the Peekskill NAACP, schools, churches and business community.

Talbot said the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce was firmly behind the city not opting out, but Chamber President Deb Milone said that’s not the case, stating in a September 21 letter to the council the chamber has taken no position on the cannabis issue and “currently has no intention to do so.”

“As an involved resident of the City for 31 years, I complied with a request to complete a survey sent to all residents. I indicated my personal opinion, in favor of dispensaries but NOT lounges. During a recent ribbon-cutting, a Councilwoman asked for my opinion on dispensaries. My reply was the same as the survey response, strictly as an individual and not in my capacity as President of the HVGCC. At no point during that conversation was I asked about the HVCGCC’s position,” Milone stated.

“It is offensive to publicly announce my personal opinion as a resident while insinuating that it is the position of the HVGCC. With such an important issue, there is no place for political posturing by mischaracterizing a conversation at a social event,” she added.

In the spring, the city sent an online survey to residents seeking input. As of September 8, the city revealed there were 1,191 responses, with 71% supporting dispensaries and 65% supporting café lounges.

The Common Council Monday night scheduled a public hearing on the cannabis legislation for October 12.

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