Peekskill Residents Split on Retail Cannabis Dispensaries

The Peekskill Common Council heard a wide array of opinions last week during a public hearing on the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) enacted in New York State in late March 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, the municipality is automatically opted in, but local boards can pass legislation that governs the hours and location of the businesses.

If an elected body opts out, residents have 45 days to submit a petition to force a public referendum.

During a work session discussion on September 20, the majority of the Peekskill Common Council supported allowing retail marijuana dispensaries to set up shop in city limits.

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.

John Donahue, an 89-year Peekskill resident and former state trooper, made a lengthy, passionate plea last week to the council to opt-out, arguing allowing cannabis dispensaries and lounges would present a “grave danger” to youth in the city.

“For God’s sake, we got to look at the kids,” said Donahue, who cited a study that claimed 60% of school-aged children have used marijuana before the sixth grade. “This is not the way to improve the lives of our children. We’re doing a disservice to our community, to our youth and our country if we opt in to this now. It’s just so wrong.”

Mary Ann McArra Fitzpatrick contended the 3% excise tax municipalities would receive for embracing the marijuana establishments was not worth the negative things they would bring to Peekskill.

“While many things are legal, it doesn’t mean they are beneficial to a community,” she stated. “We should not aspire to be Mt. Vernon North. What’s at stake here is the character and tenor of the community. There must be a better way to bolster our economy.”

Leesther Brown, a longtime city resident who is running for a council seat in the November 2 election, agreed with Donahue and Fitzpatrick.

“We’re not getting a lot out of this but a whole lot of trouble,” Brown remarked. “Studies have shown where there are dispensaries there are shootings. Peekskill has been a dumping ground for drugs for years. We need to look at the demographics and our children. We need to study this a little bit more.”

However, many other speakers, some of whom said they would like the opportunity to open a cannabis business in Peekskill, supported city officials opting in.

“I think it would be fantastic to have a wonderful, vibrant place where people can go and indulge responsibly and safely,” said Lisa Hoffman, a 53-year-old widow who credited medical marijuana with saving her life. “Cannabis is medicine and people who don’t think so should probably smoke some.”

“I don’t see any reason to opt-out of dispensaries,” said Kacey O’Connell. “It’s not a drug, it’s a medicine. If alcohol can be sold at bars down the street, we can do it with dispensaries.”

With cannabis businesses unlikely to be able to open until late 2022, some residents, such as Lena Walker, maintained city officials should not rush into anything.

“Why are we jumping into something that we really don’t know how it will affect us?” she said. “When there’s too much of a gray area, why are you going to jump into a black hole?”

Mayor Andre Rainey, who supports the city opting in, thanked residents for speaking out.

“There’s obviously a lot to think about and consider,” he said. “There seems to be data that works against everything.”

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