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Seeding Wisdom in Westchester’s Emerging Cannabis Culture

Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

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By Adam Stone

At first, it was mostly just about seizing a once-in-a-generation business opportunity for Beth Smith.

The lifelong Westchester resident and veteran public school special education teacher knew securing a license from New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) would unlock a massive marketplace for any savvy entrepreneur.

But since 2022, as she immersed herself in related research, the 59-year-old grew to appreciate the transformative, positive impact her product could play in people’s lives.

“There’s so many health benefits to it,” the White Plains native and longtime Ossining resident said of cannabis. “I’m educated now about the different strains and about the different ways in which the growers use genetics to create a certain strain to give you a certain effect. And that part of it has been fascinating to me.”

In less than two months Smith will be opening her retail shop, Purple Owl, on Church Street in White Plains. (There’s also already the Elevate Cannabis Dispensary in Mount Vernon, which opened in late 2023, and another business, Etain in White Plains, which hosted a grand opening last Friday, marking a relocation from the firm’s previous medical-only retail dispensary in Yonkers.)

Purple Owl, for its part, already operates online at, delivering legal marijuana to area residents 21 and over since Dec. 27, using a warehouse space in Mount Vernon to facilitate logistics.

Brick and Mortar

Elizabeth Smith and Juan Alviro
Entrepreneur Beth Smith stands with her son’s friend, Juan Alverio, who is one of her business partners in Purple Owl. The dispensary intends to help shape Westchester’s cannabis culture.

Purple Owl’s core customers are mostly everyday suburbanites, eager to reap the benefits of legal cannabis.

Smith is currently servicing about two dozen area residents per day, mostly from northern Westchester and Putnam counties, with many happy customers in local communities such as Chappaqua, Katonah and Mahopac.

“So by us opening the first real true [dispensary] in central Westchester, we can access customers in the northern suburbs,” said Smith, who now specializes in reading instruction for fourth-through eighth-grade students in Mount Vernon, after working as a classroom teacher earlier in her career.

The OCM prioritizes promoting marijuana sales through retail shopping.

“They really want us to do brick and mortar,” Smith explained. “It will give us access to more customers. It will allow customers to really interact more with the product. Right now, they have to go to our website and look at pictures and order; they can’t open it, they can’t smell it or anything like that.”

But once the dispensary opens this spring, around Apr. 15, the digital business and the analog business will operate in tandem.

“They come, they can interact with it, pick up what they want and leave and next time we can just deliver it to them, or they can do it online and come in and do a quick grab and leave,” Smith noted.

App for That

Smith’s 36-year-old son (who preferred to keep his name private) and his friend from Ossining High School, Juan Alverio, are her business partners.

The trio had previously run a kettle corn mobile food business, from 2009 through 2015, and were itching for a new opportunity.

The state incorporated a social justice component in its dispensary operator rollout plan, with demographic preferences baked into the licensing process.

Smith knew her application was well-positioned for success.

Her and her son, and Alverio, all have marijuana possession charges in their backgrounds.

Alverio, who is of Puerto Rican descent, still hasn’t had his charges dismissed.

“So when we filled out the application, we had his violations as well as our own, and it strengthened our application,” Smith explained.

Pinot Vibes

In March 2021, New York State legalized adult-use cannabis through the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), establishing the OCM to oversee licensing, regulations and social equity initiatives. That included automatic expungement of convictions and reinvestment in communities affected by the War on Drugs, given the past insanity of locking people up on minor possession charges. (Marijuana charges can provide law enforcement with a mechanism to gather information or leverage on people for more serious offenses.)

Purple Owl Team
Smith poses with her team at the Purple Owl warehouse in Mount Vernon.

Smith is attuned to the optics of her public facing role in the enterprise, and the racial, socioeconomic and class dynamics at play in working to mainstream cannabis.

“I think as a white, educated female, I think people will feel less intimidated,” she said in our phone interview a few weeks ago.

Cannabis operators believe there will be significant interest among those who haven’t enjoyed cannabis in the past, as well as from people willing to give it a second look, now that it’s legal.

Maybe imagine a Westchester mom who currently sips pinot while cooking dinner – she might replace that glass with a THC-infused drink.

“I think people are going to feel that the stigma maybe is being elevated a little bit and that unlike liquor, this is a product that can help people from a medical standpoint, but it also allows people to enjoy it in a safe, comfortable environment,” Smith said.

Interestingly, she does not use cannabis anymore herself, committing to an entirely sober life in 1996 after struggling with substance issues.

“There’s other people who have gotten sober and they use marijuana for medical purposes, but it’s my choice,” she said.

Smith’s abstinence actually serves as a great example of the larger point – the legal availability of these products doesn’t mean everyone should indulge. It means some people safely can.

Purple Owl

The dispensary’s name was inspired by the enterprise’s original company name, Westchester Harvesting Company, which led to a play on words during Zoom meetings. The initials “WH” prompted inquiries of “Who?” and eventually sparked the idea of incorporating an owl motif.

And purple is simply Smith’s favorite color.

Purple Owl Products
Purple Owl offers oHHo’s dark chocolate brand and ayrloom lemonade, just two of the company’s cannabis-infused edible offerings. The business is set to debut its retail location in White Plains in mid-April, featuring a variety of products including pre-rolls, vaporizers, concentrates, capsules/tablets and cannabis flower.

When the retail shop opens next month, the atmosphere will aim to scream mainstream credibility. The ambiance will be reminiscent of a forest retreat, adorned with earthy tones and owl-themed decor, fostering a wellness mood for customers seeking a holistic cannabis experience.

“We’re more about home comfort, feeling that this isn’t a bad thing, that this is not something I have to hide from,” Smith said. “This is not something I have to wear a black hoodie over my head and sunglasses and walk into the dispensary. Our dispensary is very open and very warm and very inviting, and I think that that’s what cannabis needs to be, and that’s what sets us apart.”

Yet don’t misunderstand. Despite Smith’s eagerness to promote wellness with her products, she’s also incredibly and rightfully excited about having captured an early and incredibly valuable corner of this emerging market.

Right now, sales are about $40,000 per month but, once the dispensary opens, business is poised to boom.

“We anticipate anywhere from 400 to 500 sales per day,” said Smith, also noting that most customers spend about $200 to $300 per digital visit.

The Long Island-based Strain Stars has shown just how much revenue will pour in for early suburban operators.

“They had put out their profit numbers last year and their sales, and they are making over a million dollars a month,” Smith noted about Strain Stars’ revenue. “I don’t think we’re going to hit that mark, but there’s always that possibility. Our demographics are very similar to that of Long Island.”

Veteran Presence

I also interviewed one of Smith’s customers, a local Air Force veteran and area public school teacher who lives in Brewster.

Despite her desire to destigmatize cannabis use, she asked that I only publish her first name and the first initial of her last name.

Maire J., a former Air Force medical technician who currently works as a substitute teacher within a Westchester elementary school building, embraced cannabis after a Utah kayaking accident in the late 1990s, when she was in her mid-30s.

The former athlete had been disgusted by the synthetic pain medication prescribed for her discomfort, and a friend suggested a natural option in marijuana, only available on the illicit market at the time.

She’d disliked weed when she previously tried it a couple times as a teen.

But, in the aftermath of the serious kayaking accident, the product immediately helped soothe her many ailments, and worked as a sleep aid, which assisted in the healing process.

Since then, she began incorporating cannabis into her life recreationally. But it’s been such a recent joy for Maire to now see the plant increasingly mainstreamed.

“Change can happen incrementally – sometimes it happens with a bang, but sometimes it’s little push,” said Maire, who ordered from Purple Owl for the first time a month or so ago.

She loved the door-to-door service.

“It’s just so civilized,” Maire gushed.

As for anyone worried about the societal impact of the sale of legal but dangerous drugs, they’d probably be better served by protesting outside a corporate U.S. pharmacy.

“What gets me is that you could be doing more damage with taking some of the crap they sell at Rite-Aid and CVS, and nobody cares,” Maire said. “But if you tell someone that you like to light a joint at night, you get a dirty look. I don’t know, it’s, again, one conversation at a time, I think.”

Seed of an Idea

Planting cannabis yourself is also an option.

New Yorkers, aged 21 and above, are allowed to cultivate up to six cannabis plants at home for personal use, with a maximum of a dozen plants per household, according to the MRTA. (Retailers can’t be manufacturers; the state doesn’t want any vertical control of the market.)

With the personal planting option in mind, Maire said she’s considering cannabis gardening at some point down the line.

“I think I may entertain myself with that,” she noted.

As cannabis gains wider and wider societal acceptance, it’s easy to envision prim and proper garden club groups in the future incorporating cultivation alongside traditional horticultural planting and other such suburban images that would have sounded far-fetched even just a few years ago.

Companies advertising cannabis during the Super Bowl will eventually become as American of an image as Budweiser promoting its beer.

Main Street’s embrace of cannabis will be as commonplace as a chamber of commerce ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new coffee shop or pharmacy.

Service with a Smile

Journalistically and personally, I felt compelled to better understand the inner workings of Smith’s enterprise, so I popped onto her website to see how the transactions work. It felt quick and easy but also professional and safe.

The online product descriptions provided useful details on what I might want to purchase.

A requirement to share my government-issued identification and be home for the delivery made it feel more like ordering a regulated product such as liquor online, not a pair of socks.

There was a $100 minimum, and I was drawn to the low milligram options.

Within a couple hours of placing my order, a friendly delivery man contacted me to say he was on his way.

He arrived with a smile soon after.

I showed him my license, signed for it and he handed me a tastefully designed, discreet package.

Vice Squad

Reporting on this topic has also made me think deeper about vices. I regularly drink alcohol and caffeine in moderation.

Perhaps replacing a nighttime glass of beer or wine with a cannabis-infused drink would be a healthier choice without the risk of hangover or sleep disruption?

I purchased a dark chocolate bar, cannabis-infused lemonade and a tablet called Bliss, billed as “plant-based pills for happiness.”

I also have to say, just as an aside, the bar – made by a small Bedford Hills manufacturer – was perhaps the best tasting chocolate I’d ever had, no exaggeration. The lemonade was also very tasty.

As for the effect, it was deeply enjoyable. Yet it’s worth emphasizing how at an earlier, less tranquil point in my life, I was spooked by even the brief impact of marijuana on my young mind.

Just in terms of my personal experience, sober mindfulness was my past portal to peace.

Cannabis is now just a new treat, subtly helping to illuminate the wisest road forward.

Next Chapter

The degree to which the cannabis industry will eventually be a mainstream part of American life probably hasn’t really struck our collective consciousness yet.

After federal legalization eventually arrives, which feels inevitable, even if several years off, today’s debates will appear as old-fashioned as prohibition.

Everyday Americans will purchase their cannabis without controversy, like they do their coffee, their wine and their medicine on Main Street.

When it comes to messages directed toward kids, while a more nuanced discussion merits its own column, the bottom-line conclusion is that responsible adults must educate children that use can adversely affect the developing brain, presenting grave gateway risks, and should be deeply discouraged.

But whether it’s alcohol or cannabis, a legal age of 21 (when you can vote and even fight and die for your country at 18) makes no sense.

But There’s a Real But…

John McCown
John McCown, a Pound Ridge resident and former supervisor candidate, is spearheading efforts to seek community involvement in local decision-making regarding cannabis shops.

That said, some local residents are more than understandably highlighting the importance of community engagement in the local decision-making process regarding cannabis shops.

John McCown, a Pound Ridge resident and former supervisor candidate in last November’s election, co-formed a coalition, the Pound Ridge Due Process Committee, with like-minded neighbors to address the town’s handling of the issue. He said there are about 40 regular participants.

Unlike most other northern Westchester municipalities, Pound Ridge decided not to opt out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries by the Dec. 31, 2021, deadline.

In other words, officials decided to permit retailers by default.

McCown shared an Oct. 29, 2021 e-mail sent by Pound Ridge Supervisor Kevin Hansan to other surrounding town supervisors. In the e-mail, obtained by activists through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), Hansan discussed the town’s stance on cannabis dispensaries, and why the board didn’t opt out.

“We are comfortable with the possibility of a dispensary,” Hansan wrote to fellow area supervisors. “On-site consumption isn’t even considered a possible viable business for Pound Ridge since we have zero public transportation, no pedestrian foot traffic, and minimal UBERs.”

The fact that the supervisor was engaged in dialogue with other supervisors, but not town residents, rankled McCown.

“Not to the police department, not to the planning, economic development or zoning committees or the myriad of other local government entities that would be involved even if it was a less consequential decision,” McCown said.

‘Open, Fulsome Discussion’

McCown also showed me a letter from Dec. 10, 2023, by Pound Ridge attorney and resident John Nathan who contacted the licensing division of the OCM, alleging the town’s handling of the cannabis matter was conducted unlawfully, violating multiple statutes and procedures.

“Just kind of a unilateral decision that has everybody kind of baffled in terms of the process,” McCown remarked in our phone interview.

He also said Pound Ridge just isn’t the right aesthetic match. McCown worries about traffic and crime, with operators carrying lots of cash.

“I don’t think it fits in our little town that has no stoplights,” he said. “And I tell people that I love Starbucks, and I go to Starbucks on my biking trips in New Canaan, but I never want to see a Starbucks in Pound Ridge.”

I shared with McCown how I’d traveled to the Berkshires in Massachusetts with my wife in 2021, and we were struck by how seamlessly several legal cannabis shops were incorporated into the quaint downtown areas.

I’ve heard similar accounts about stores in Connecticut.

“You can get it in Danbury at a very nice-looking shop,” one reader e-mailed me after I teased this column in our newsletter last week. “Towns here are just forfeiting money.”

While McCown acknowledged how the aesthetics of existing dispensaries in neighboring areas might match the look and feel of their host communities, he stressed the need for integrity of process.

“Those are all things that should be part of an open, fulsome discussion,” he said.

The Color Purple

The Town Board authorized a resolution early last month requesting reinstatement of a nine-month period for adopting a local opt-out law.

Pound Ridge Supervisor Kevin Hansan
The Pound Ridge Town Board, under Supervisor Kevin Hansan, decided to permit legal cannabis dispensaries when choosing not to “opt out” in 2021.

“If Pound Ridge residents get the nine-month period that they never had back, I’m indifferent to what decision comes out of that because I know due process and the rule of law has been followed,” McCown said.

Meanwhile, news broke late last month that a company named Purple Plains sued Pound Ridge over the moratorium, arguing the town’s failure to opt out of cannabis sales legally allowed them to proceed with the store.

McCown said his group agrees with Purple Plains “in a narrow sense,” adding that “the Town Board did something illegal but we’re talking about what they did in 2021.”

But he said it’s Nathan’s legal analysis – pointing to a half-dozen New York State laws violated by the town’s handling of the decision not to opt out in 2021 – that illustrates the way forward.

“If the court rules in the owner’s favor, based on the single county law violated, as a non-lawyer that suggests to me that there will be a favorable outcome from any litigation that will occur [if] the (state) legislature doesn’t pass a technical correction bill we seek because six even more relevant state laws were broken by the board’s off-the-books action in 2021,” he said.

McCown expressed his acceptance of any outcome as long as the proceedings are conducted with integrity.

Bite Size

The MRTA does establish a detailed taxation framework for adult-use cannabis, including taxes on distributors for different product forms like edibles, concentrates and cannabis flower, with revenue allocated to education, community grants for various services, drug treatment and public education funds.

But McCown says the costs far outweigh the benefits.

“By my calculations, it’d be something like $50,000 a year, which is less than 1 percent of the budget of the town,” he said of Pound Ridge.

In response to the town’s handling of the issue, the local citizens group has hired a prominent Albany lobbyist, Brown & Weinraub, to advocate for a legislative fix by state lawmakers.

McCown said local officials have been generally receptive to addressing the group’s procedural concerns.

“We want a technical correction,” he said. “People were saying, ‘Well, why should Pound Ridge get a second bite at the apple?’ And my response to whoever said that was, ‘We don’t want a second bite. We just want one bite.’”

McCown has also been frustrated by information about possible operators emerging circuitously, not through consistent, proactive town communication efforts.

“There were three applications pending that they had known about for months,” he said.

Supervisor Replies

When I reached Hansan for an interview last Friday, he expressed a deep reluctance to delve into the past issues, especially around the decision not to opt out in 2021.

However, he did say how he believes the critiques are politically motivated.

“There’s a lot I could really say, but I choose not to,” Hansan told me in a phone interview.

When I asked about the critique around communication, he cited media reporting about the opt-out conversation from 2021.

“It was well-publicized in New York State,” Hansan said, referring to the fact that “people knew about it.”

“The state had made it legal,” he commented. “If they had had concerns, they could have brought it forward, and they didn’t.”

I asked whether the town’s resolution from earlier this year constitutes a policy review he endorses substantively, or if it was a measure the town felt obligated to embrace due to public feedback.

“It was a result of comments from our residents,” Hansan replied. “We try to be responsive to our residents.”

He generally dismissed concerns from residents about potential traffic and safety issues related to cannabis operations, noting that such matters should be addressed by state regulatory bodies rather than the town.

“If they have concerns with the way that the state is rolling it out and what the requirements are for a cannabis retailer, that’s really up to the state,” he said. “Take their concern to the state, or whether or not it’s cash or whatever, how they manage it, that’s not within the domain of the town.”

While multiple operators have expressed interest, he said he’s aware of only the one current formal application.

“The town has the right to set up the time, place and manner in our zoning codes, and that’s what we’re doing,” the supervisor said.

My take is that the process sounded imperfect, and those shortcomings are worthy of examination and review.

But integrity of process debates, while absolutely critical to local democracy, are usually about more than just process.

Apples, Oranges, and Microwaves

It’s vital to note the vast and deadly crisis in the United States involving substance use disorder and the devastating perils of addition.

I reported last year on the opioid settlement funds, and the importance of integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders, and how the money could be best used on prevention, treatment and systemic reform.

Drug-involved overdose deaths, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids, reached an apex in 2021, amid the pandemic, with more than 106,000 people losing their lives to the crisis, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Westchester has averaged 13.8 deaths per 100,000 population for any opioid overdose death while Putnam is listed at 18.2, data from 2020 shows. The statewide average is 21.5.

In the coming weeks, I’ll also have new reporting on the severity of the mental health crisis facing area adolescents, following an interview with a local hospital executive. Serious plans are developing in the region to address the problems, as academic stressors and social media toxicity continue to wreak havoc on young minds.

And it’s also worth noting new research, released just last week, that investigates the association of cannabis use with cardiovascular outcomes among U.S. adults.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, reveal an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, especially with heavier use. (Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that irresponsible consumption of most any legal product – from junk food to prescription medicine to nicotine cigarettes – carries real risks.)

Fun Guy

One of the great fallacies in past public policy dialogue around illegal drugs is lumping all of these products together into one incoherent conversation.

For instance, many in the medical establishment have started to again recognize the value of hallucinogens in treating mental illness, as researchers began to do in the 1950s before regulatory stigmatization began in the late 1960s.

In 2019, Denver became the first city in the United States to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, followed by Oregon in 2020, where voters approved a measure allowing for the regulated use of psilocybin in supervised therapeutic settings.

In fact, three years ago Oregon voters endorsed an initiative to legalize hard drugs.

But illustrating the complexity of the issue, just last week Oregon lawmakers voted to reimpose criminal penalties for possessing poison such as fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine amid soaring overdose deaths.

Mixing public policy debates about mushrooms, cannabis, fentanyl and various other substances into a single public policy conversation, as we have in the past, is like trying to argue over saxophones, baseball spikes and explosives.

It creates a jumble of unrelated topics, initiating a dialogue based on a flawed premise.

Just Say Nuance

Most people born in the 20th century come to this topic influenced in varying degrees by outdated anti-cannabis propaganda, from “Reefer Madness” to the “Just Say No” era of the disastrous War on Drugs.

Many raise questions about cannabis that they don’t often ask about coffee or beer or potentially toxic prescription pain medication.

A new generation is born into a world where legal recreational use of cannabis in some states is now a dozen years old, with Washington and Colorado authorizing the policy in 2012.

Even when stipulating concerns about its potential as a gateway drug, or risks associated with mental illness, cannabis offers distinctive advantages not found in socially endorsed vices.

It can help profoundly with arthritic pain relief, inflammation, relaxation and mood, and there are potential therapeutic applications for diverse medical conditions such as epilepsy, anxiety, PTSD, chemotherapy-induced nausea, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease and symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS and cancer treatments.

If you’re uncomfortable exploring on your own, there are marijuana doctors the cannabis curious can consult. Bedford’s Dr. Lynn Parodneck, for instance, provides patients with a wellness exam followed by treatment. (Parodneck joined a lawsuit last year alleging that state regulators violated the law in implementing its social justice goals, creating a narrow licensing category).

New local locations will also continue to sprout up. Only last month, on Feb. 14, the Peekskill Planning Commission approved a special permit and site plan approval for two cannabis dispensaries in the city, although both still require licenses from the OCM.

Just as wine connoisseurs find joy in exploring different grape varieties, cannabis enthusiasts delight in discovering diverse weed strains, experimenting with what induces relaxation versus invigoration and all the rest.

“Cannabis is enjoying a resurgence among boomers and Gen Xers who are more health conscious, hangover avoidant and simply feeling liberated to revisit cannabis recreationally now that it’s legal,” Smith stated.

In a world seeking peace amid confusion, responsible cannabis use, acquired on a safe legal market, offers mindful adults a useful pathway to greater tranquility.

Adam Stone is the publisher of Examiner Media. Email him with tips and feedback at

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