The first public forum to determine if marijuana dispensaries should be allowed in Pleasantville was held last Monday evening with a general consensus that the village should opt-out from retail sales.
Many in the small gathering at Village Hall and those who assembled online advocated for a wait-and-see approach until the newly-formed New York State Cannabis Control Board and the Office of Cannabis Management announce their regulations on production, licensing, packaging, marketing and sale of cannabis.
A municipality has until Dec. 31 to formally opt-out of allowing marijuana sales and consumption lounges or those facilities will become legal.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Kathy Hochul appointed two board members to the Office of Cannabis Management. It is estimated the new regulations will be finalized and implemented sometime next year.
One of the biggest concerns voiced by the public last week was how cannabis cafes in the village could negatively impact youngsters, who are known to overconsume cannabis candy such as the popular marijuana gummies.
“Edibles are incredibly dangerous to our youth,” said Laura Moore, coalition coordinator of Pleasantville STRONG, a group that advocates to prevent drug and alcohol use among youth. “A youngster could try one and it might not be enough and they could try another; by the time we get down that road and they’ve had more and start to feel it, it’s too late. We’ve seen rises in calls to poison control in relation to edible cannabis.”
Pleasantville Superintendent of Schools Mary Fox-Alter echoed Moore’s concerns.
“I’m asking you to pause and consider the protection of our youth,” Fox-Alter said. “In this unique, 1.7-square-mile walkable community we need to spend time to think about the impacts of (marijuana dispensaries) on our most vulnerable, our children.”
Dispensaries pose other challenges for local police. Pleasantville Police Chief Erik Grutzner said the department has no issues with the personal use of marijuana in the home, but it is problematic if there’s a violation by a person who has consumed cannabis.
“If people are operating motor vehicles under the influence, we don’t have reliable tests to measure the amount of intoxicants,” said Grutzner. “That would require the use of a drug recognition expert.”
Opting out would require a resolution proposed at a Village Board meeting followed by a public hearing.
“If there’s no pushback then we can close the public hearing and vote the proposed resolution into law,” Village Administrator Eric Morrissey said.
Anyone favoring retail marijuana sales in the village would have to petition for a permissive referendum, which would require 1,041 valid signatures, or 20 percent of enrolled voters, to trigger a vote.
“I’ve talked to dozens of villagers about the topic of tonight’s forum,” said Trustee Michael Peppard. “And my sense is that, among regular marijuana users in Pleasantville, there is not a strong desire for a dispensary here.”
Louis Dorio, a retired Harrison police chief and longtime Pleasantville resident, recounted the loss of youths due to drug or alcohol use. He questioned if tax revenue from marijuana sales was worth the risk.
“We’re going to make money for the community and make money for the state, (but) my question is at what cost?” Dorio said. “I don’t think we should allow easier access to (marijuana) in our community even though it is legal in the state. It’s not a good idea for Pleasantville to allow people to come here and buy it.”
Having a dispensary in the village would send the wrong message, said recovering alcoholic Terry Singletary, a former Pleasantville resident and high school alumnus. “Recovery is my life, and marijuana is a gateway drug. We still have an opioid epidemic and if you talk to an opioid user, we all started by smoking marijuana.”
Officials said opting out doesn’t preclude the village from changing its mind, especially if the rules, regulations and location of cannabis stores pose little threat to youth.
“There is no time frame attached to that,” said Mayor Peter Scherer.
United Methodist Church Pastor Susan Chupungco said dispensaries were not typically storefronts.
“They are usually in industrial complexes with security outdoors and an extensive screening process for letting people in,” she said. “A youth is not going to walk through a door of a dispensary the way they can walk into a liquor store.”
Chupungco also told the board to consider those interested in opening a dispensary in the area.
“There’s an economic opportunity here for those that may want to apply to open a business in the village.”
Since some residents were unable to speak because the Village Board ended the forum to address other business, it will be continued at the board’s next meeting and work session on Oct. 14 at 7 p.m.
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/