Officials propose committee to tackle local hunger
Residents last week urged the Philipstown Town Board to opt out of opting out and allow marijuana businesses to soon open.
They commented in an Oct. 7 public hearing on a proposed law declaring that Philipstown, at least for now, would prohibit pot businesses. Only one speaker endorsed that idea.
In other business during a lengthy session at Town Hall, the board discussed local hunger, a problem even in “a town as wealthy as Philipstown,” according to Supervisor Richard Shea.
Earlier this year, New York State legalized adults’ recreational use of cannabis. It plans to license marijuana shops and lounges, and has given towns and villages until Dec. 31 to opt out of allowing them. Municipalities that do nothing — thereby opting in — cannot subsequently reverse their position. But those that opt out in 2021 can opt in later. The state law returns 4 percent of taxes from cannabis to localities.
Anthony Lise, who lives and practices law in Garrison and hopes to start a cannabis business, told the board that “the community supports opting in,” which “will promote small-business growth, support local farmers and increase tax revenues. Any increase in tax revenue is a good thing.” If Philipstown opts out this fall but then opts in at a future date, “we will have wasted so much time,” cannabis entrepreneurs will have looked to nearby communities instead, and, with the state limiting the number of licenses available, “none may be left” for pot shops in Philipstown, said Lise.
Colin Wright, a Philipstown farmer who serves on the Putnam County agricultural board and manages the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market, advised the board that “it would be unwise to opt out.”
Eric Arnold, who serves on the town Comprehensive Plan committee but spoke as an individual, noted that the draft law aims to safeguard the town, but “if we were truly concerned about public health, safety and well-being, we wouldn’t be opting out.” Refusing to accept licensed pot enterprises only encourages an illegal underground market, he said.
Cold Spring resident Tara Vamos argued that “we should absolutely go forward with allowing cannabis sales.” She and other opt-in supporters dismissed claims that the presence of cannabis establishments would lead to drug use by teens, decrease property values or spark social problems. Vamos said that to buy cannabis she occasionally drives to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, “a beautiful, cute town” where “nothing hideous has happened” since cannabis businesses began operating.
Board members seemed skeptical.
“I have no support for any kind of smoking,” said Councilor John Van Tassel, who is running unopposed for town supervisor. (Shea is retiring.) “I’m certainly not going to say I’m here to support the use of cannabis in any form. It’ll take quite a bit of convincing to change my mind.”
Councilor Judy Farrell underscored the board’s need for input from the whole community, “not just a few who may have an interest in a cannabis business or the tax revenue that might come. We have to do our due diligence.”
The anticipated marijuana tax income “is not the tremendous amount of money” some might envision, said Councilor Robert Flaherty, who noted that even without pot shops in Philipstown, residents can indulge: “Nobody is going to stop you from smoking it on the street.”
Councilor Jason Angell said he’s “still listening, still thinking it through.” He recommended consideration of the possible impact of pot shops on shopping areas and roads, along with other concerns.
“What’s really driving” the board’s interest in opting out “is the fact we need to make a decision,” but lack the time, energy and resources to complete any necessary zoning changes and similar revisions this fall, Shea explained. “It’s just not going to happen. We have too many other priorities,” such as infrastructure and “food insecurity. There are children going to bed hungry in this town tonight,” he emphasized. “That’s not hyperbole. That’s a fact. I’ve seen it. So if I’m going to spend time, and money, on something, it’s going to be those issues first.”
Angell proposed that the board set up a committee to address local hunger and said the latest U.S. Census found 120 households in Philipstown with incomes below the federal poverty line, homes “which you can assume are food-insecure, chronically.”
Shea termed the committee “a laudable … achievable goal.” He also reported on efforts to assist residents left economically strapped during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Town officials collected donations ranging from small amounts to, in several cases, $50,000 to $100,000, and used the funds to purchase cards exchanged for groceries, pay for medical prescriptions and help in other ways. They assisted not only people in Philipstown, but residents of Beacon, Peekskill, Newburgh and elsewhere, he said, and distributed $461,000 in aid.
“It’s beyond distressing to see things you just don’t expect to see in our own backyard,” said Shea. Even as the pandemic abates, “we’re going to make sure we don’t leave people behind,” he promised.
Cold Spring will surely become more than a tourist mecca if cannabis is permitted to be sold. Perhaps this Aspen Times article should be read as a cautionary tale of retail cannabis to lead some balance and perspective to the debate.
The studies reported in the Aspen Times will certainly give the decision makers a lot to talk about, analyze, debate, and so on. The $ aspect is certainly appealing. What impacted me mostly from the article is the NOISE. In recent years the noise surrounding and affecting our lives has been deafening. Noise tends to divert and veil what’s really important.
P.S. I got so caught up with the ‘noise’ aspect that I missed the Board Members’ focus on what’s really important. Good for you guys & gals.