Retail Marijuana

Marijuana Public Hearing

A public hearing on Tuesday about whether Cold Spring should allow marijuana sales drew only a small audience. (Photo by M. Turton)

Cold Spring ‘opts out,’ while Philipstown mulls it over

The five members of the Cold Spring Village board on Tuesday (July 20) voted unanimously to opt out of New York State laws regulating retail outlets for the sale and consumption of legal marijuana.

Earlier this year, New York legalized recreational use of cannabis this year for adults 21 and older, who can possess up to 3 ounces. While the state plans to license shops that sell marijuana or allow on-site consumption, it allowed towns and villages to opt out by Dec. 31 of permitting such establishments within their borders. Those that opt out can allow the establishments later. Those that “opt in” through inaction cannot later ban sales.

Local residents can petition to have the question placed on the ballot through what is known as a “passive referendum.” However, the Village Board voted to create a “permissive referendum” that will put the issue on the Nov. 2 ballot without a petition.

“There will be a larger debate later on,” Merandy predicted, adding that Cold Spring could benefit from studying the experience of states such as Massachusetts, which legalized sales in 2016.

There was little smoke and no fire at the July 15 public hearing on whether the village should opt out. Held at the firehouse, the hearing drew only a handful of residents and concluded 11 minutes after it began. 

Eliza Starbuck, a candidate for village trustee, asked if Cold Spring would have control over marijuana establishments if it opts in later. 

“The village would be able to determine where they would be located and how many” through zoning laws, Merandy said. 

After Starbuck asked for clarification regarding the sales tax benefits, Trustee Kathleen Foley said sales would be taxed at 4 percent, on top of the regular state sales tax. “Twenty-five percent [of the 4 percent] is retained by Putnam County,” she said. “Seventy-five percent goes back to the municipality” where the sale occurred. 

“It’s the one tax under state law that the county has to share with us,” Foley said. 

Tara Vamos, who lives in the village, spoke in favor of allowing sales. “It would be a great asset to have a dispensary in town,” she said. “Getting back that sales tax would be tremendous.” 

Earlier this month, the three members of the Putnam County Legislature’s Health Committee wrote to town and village leaders suggesting they opt out. Their letter cited a study published this year that found home prices within a 36-mile area in Washington state of a new dispensary fell by 3 to 4 percent on average.

Vamos disputed that report, pointing to a 2017 study that found homes in Denver located closer to dispensaries increased in value by about 8 percent after cannabis sales became legal in Colorado in 2014. She also disputed findings that dispensaries lead to increased use of marijuana. 

In letters to the village, two people wrote in opposition to allowing retail sales. Evan Hudson argued that opting out “will help to maintain our quality of life in Cold Spring,” while Danielle Pack McCarthy, executive director of the Philipstown Behavioral Health Hub, said that opting out gives Cold Spring the opportunity to see how things unfold in other municipalities. Doing otherwise, she argued, would send a message to youth that smoking marijuana is OK.

“I see many young people who come in with serious marijuana dependency,” Pack McCarthy wrote. “Easy access would likely increase these numbers.”


By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

As the Philipstown Town Board last week began considering whether to allow retail marijuana sales and on-site consumption, two members declared their support for opting out. And all those present expressed reservations about “opting in” without more research and public input.

At a July 14 workshop at Town Hall, the board discussed the issue with its attorney, Stephen Gaba.

Gaba explained that unless the town opts out, “the state says you irrevocably lose the right to have a law” that would ban retail sales, Gaba said. Beyond opting out, “there’s not that much that municipalities can do.” If it allowed sales, a municipality could amend its zoning code to limit them to certain areas.

Board Member Jason Angell suggested a municipality could permit lounges where marijuana is consumed, but not retail sales, or vice versa.

Pack McCarthy, of the Philipstown Behavioral Health Hub, shared the same message with the Town Board that she made in a letter to the Cold Spring Village Board, warning that “the easier the access, the more likely young people are going to use it. I’d just caution, regardless of the decision, the messaging to young people has to be so strong” to ensure they are informed of the risks.

The only benefit of accepting marijuana sales seems to be the 3 percent sales tax income that the town would receive, said Member John Van Tassel. “We’re not talking about a windfall here.”

“It’s a complicated topic,” said Supevisor Richard Shea, who predicted that Beacon, Peekskill and Fishkill would allow retail sales. If Philipstown officials “say that we’re not going to have it here, we also have to be aware that we’re passing up a revenue stream. It’s a funny situation to say we’re going to tax and make money on something that a lot of people see as a problem.” Yet, he reasoned, “you’re not going to preclude anybody from buying marijuana. People are going to get it. They’re going to smoke it.”

Shea added: “We want to have a townwide discussion. If we opt out, it’s on the public” to demand a referendum.

He said state government “loves” gambling, alcohol sales and marijuana “because they’re cash cows. Money: It does drive politics. It’s tempting” also to use the tax revenue to fund projects, he acknowledged. However, he revealed, “I’m leaning toward opting out. I’m not comfortable with making money off vice.”

“I’m not comfortable with that [either],” Van Tassel said. “I’d also side with opting out.”

5 thoughts on “Retail Marijuana

  1. I realize the highly sensitive topic of considering Philipstown and Cold Spring’s positions on the recent legalization of cannabis businesses in our state and local communities. Personally I have been in no shortage of backyards where I have repeatedly heard really solid, committed and engaged members of the community candidly express fear and trepidation about voicing an opinion that could be construed as pro-cannabis industry out of fear of some sort of fallout from those who are opposed.

    I am certain that the Town and Village Boards are receiving many impassioned submissions on all sides of the issue. I simply ask that they not be swayed by comments that suggest:

    – “a local dispensary will reduce home values” – in fact, the opposite has been found to be true.
    – “a local dispensary will bring crime to our area” – in fact, dispensaries are luxury retailers. They are well-lit, and they bring additional retail traffic to communities where they are located, actually reducing crime.
    -“a local dispensary will cause an increase in youth cannabis consumption” – Again, the opposite has been found to be true in all states that have legalized adult cannabis sales. The regulatory framework and identity verification requirements for cannabis dispensaries and the consequences for non-compliant businesses are far greater (and more grave) than for liquor stores.

    Finally, we must also be honest with ourselves regarding the unique nature of real estate and the geography of our part of the world. Philipstown is sandwiched in between Peekskill, Beacon and Fishkill. If the Town or Village vote to prevent dispensaries here, there will still be multiple dispensaries well within 5-10 miles of our borders that WILL be taking tax revenue that could be spent in our town.

    We have a vital and important business community that is long on (really great) pizza, ice cream, coffee, antiques, restaurants, vintage clothing and gravel and concrete building products companies. Each of these has had varying degrees of challenges and successes over the past year and a half. A dispensary would be an upscale tenant paying premium rents and would bring upscale, adult consumers to our community.

    We have the ability to set standards and zoning for where a retailer can locate in town. Let’s take that as an opportunity to control our destiny while still participating in and benefiting from this new burgeoning economy.

  2. If opting out of cannabis dispensaries is about health and safety, why doesn’t Cold Spring ban the sale of alcohol? Alcohol is a drug. How many places do we have just on Main Street that sell beer, wine and/or spirits?

    We all know that alcohol can be highly addictive and thousands of people die each year in alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes. Yet we continue to allow the sale of this dangerous drug in our village.

    The same people who feel they have the right to purchase a bottle of wine or stop at a bar for a beer at the end of a long day express horror at the thought of an adult being able to purchase a different legal drug in the village.

    People will drive the 15 minutes to Beacon or Fishkill to buy marijuana at dispensaries and those cities will benefit from the sales tax dollars and increase in property values. These kinds of decisions should be rooted in facts, not fear.

  3. It’s funny how taking sales tax revenue from cannabis sales is seen as supporting a “vice,” while taking the same revenue from cigarettes and alcohol sales is not a problem. [via Instagram]

  4. After reading the raft of letters and comments regarding whether towns and villages should “opt out” of allowing cannabis dispensaries, I was a little put off. If the authors of these letters care so much about the is-sue, why not come to the public workshops where you could have some effect on the decision-making?

    Instead, it’s all about sound bites. Taking content and context from who knows where and spouting off is easy. Showing up to engage in a thoughtful and nuanced discussion takes effort.
    We had two participants at our meeting on July 14. Maybe the rest of the “very concerned” were home stoned (a joke). If you’re interested, you can view the discussion online, where most of the planet seems to reside now.

    Shea is the Philipstown supervisor.

  5. I can understand Mr. Shea’s sentiment, given his many years of service to the town, during which the most activity he typically sees at public meetings is when people are upset. I’ve been a lone attendee at school board meetings and one of only two or three at town budget workshops. In this case, though, people are — as Mr. Oakes pointed out — scared about coming forward on this sensitive topic in a public forum. There’s a big difference between stating into a microphone one’s impassioned opinion about dirt roads (the usual source of outcry around here) and a substance that’s been illegal, misunderstood, mishandled and even weaponized against minorities for more than half a century.

    To be fair, Shea is right: Only two people showed up at the workshop. But that’s missing the point. First, an army of opponents wasn’t in attendance, either. Where were they? And second, one of the attendees had been actively engaged in the above-mentioned backyard discussions, some of which I was a part of, which led to my written public comment and, ultimately, the town board’s call with a selectman in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Regardless of whether the contents of that call changed anyone’s minds, the board can now make a more informed decision, either way, as a direct result of those backyard conversations. (One even involved a senior resident who needs access to cannabis for a medical condition.) Informal community discussion matters just as much in Philipstown, on any issue, as stepping up to the microphone at what was, in truth, not a terribly well-advertised public meeting, certainly not as well as a workshop on whether to pave or not-to-pave.

    While I agree that it’s easier to raise one’s voice in an online medium, Shea’s joke about people being too stoned to attend the budget workshop is not fair — just as if another board member had suggested that cannabis opponents were too drunk to show up at the workshop. We all swing and miss sometimes, but I hope that he sees the comments above as informed (they certainly appear to be), and that he respects people courageous enough to voice an informed opinion and present facts, regardless of the medium in which they choose to express themselves. Cue joke: We’re all better served if these discussions end on a high note.