GovernmentThe Northern Westchester Examiner

Peekskill Council, Residents Still Split on Pot Shops

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With the deadline looming for municipalities to make a decision, the Peekskill Common Council and several outspoken residents remain split on allowing retail cannabis dispensaries and/or consumption sites to set up shop in the city.

In September, the majority of the Council informally expressed support for opting into the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) enacted in New York State on March 31 that legalized pot and gave the green light for dispensaries and lounges.

However, on Nov. 22, the Council held a public hearing on potentially opting out of the law, which all municipalities must do by Dec. 31 or else they are automatically opted in. Once opted in, municipalities can’t reverse course, but officials can pass legislation that governs the hours and location of the businesses.

“I believe in this Council and administration that they will do what is best for this community,” said outgoing Mayor Andre Rainey, who has been in favor of opting in.

Tina Volz-Bongar, who noted she lost a son at the age of 36 in a drug treatment program, wholeheartedly urged the Council to opt-in during last week’s hearing.

“This is a wonderful state law. I think this is really an opportunity to see Peekskill grow in a very creative way,” she said. “The more this is regulated the better off our children really are.”

Lisa Hoffman also was squarely behind Peekskill embracing dispensaries and lounges.

“The refer madness that is happening in this room is horrifying,” she remarked. “I don’t see why people are so hateful towards a plant. This city deserves to have what the best cannabis has to offer. Weed is not evil. Dispensaries are not evil. Consumption lounges are not evil. Misinformation is really dangerous.”

Others implored the Council to pump the brakes on opening up the city to such businesses.

“All money isn’t good money,” said Leesther Brown, who ran for Council this year and described herself as a former drug addict. “Don’t think it’s not a gateway drug. It is. We already have a problem with other drugs with our youth.”

John Donahue, a retired police officer and local veteran leader, said even though dispensaries and lounges would be restricted to customers 21 and over, employees can be as young as 18.

“It’s stupid to get into marijuana,” he said. “I’ve been at accidents many times where people have died from marijuana.”

The Council will be discussing the issue at its next Committee of the Whole meeting on Dec. 6 and are expected to take a vote on Dec. 13.

After the hearing was closed, councilwomen Vanessa Agudelo and Kathie Talbot reiterated their stances that Peekskill should opt-in.

“The legalization of marijuana is here to stay,” said Agudelo, who maintained it was “hypocritical” for any councilmembers to support liquor stores but not cannabis dispensaries and lounges.

“Staying opted in gives us more options,” contended Talbot, who revealed she smoked marijuana in the past and has visited dispensaries in other states. “In the end we will find this will be more normalized.”

Councilman Dwight Douglas has been strongly in favor of opting in, but refrained last week from giving his current opinion.
Meanwhile, councilwoman and mayor-elect Vivian McKenzie stressed the Council should opt-out until the state unveils all the rules and regulations governing cannabis businesses.

“I’ve seen what marijuana has done. I have seen it take people down to the ground,” she said. “If this is going to be big business for some conglomerate how is that going to help our community?”

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.

Councilwoman Patricia Riley, who has argued Peekskill should join the growing list of municipalities in Westchester that have opted out, and Councilman Ramon Fernandez did not reveal what side they are on last week.

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.

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