The Town of Shawangunk Board let it be known that it wanted town residents to sound off on the issue of whether to allow cannabis dispensaries and lounges within its borders as early as next year.
The board’s mission was accomplished as a crowd of about 60 to 70 people showed up at the Town Hall at the board’s Sept. 16 meeting.
Before Supervisor John Valk opened the meeting for public comment, he told the public that the Town Board had until Dec. 31, 2021, to make a decision.
If the board does nothing, cannabis dispensaries and lounges would automatically be allowed to open in the town in 2022.
If the board decides it doesn’t want the marijuana establishments, it would have to pass a local law by the end of the year stating that it is opting out of the state program that allows the businesses in the Town of Shawangunk.
However, those localities that passed a local law opting out may choose to opt back in at a later date by repealing their local law.
“We can regulate through zoning wherever you would like to locate them if you want to have it,” Valk explained. “A lot of municipalities are opting out just to buy some time and protect themselves.”
About 15 people spoke both in favor and against allowing cannabis dispensaries and lounges in the town during the nearly hour-long session.
Several speakers thought the town should allow the marijuana businesses to operate due to the tax revenue it would receive from sales of the product.
“I think a dispensary like this would help keep our taxes low, possibly even lower them,” Anthony Mantello said. “I know there’s a town in New Jersey that’s hoping to get down to zero with their local taxes. I know that’s probably a pipe dream in New York, but still it shows how much business there is for it.”
Adrienne Gelfand-Perine pointed out that cannabis has medical benefits and having a local dispensary could help out seniors who don’t have access to medical offices.
“We have a large aging population that don’t have access to medical facilities,” she said. “They could get prescriptions and it would be easy access for them in order to go over and get something from a dispensary. We have problems with transportation for seniors. They can’t get to Newburgh. They can’t get to New Paltz.”
Toni Knabl, who uses medical marijuana, said the state’s medical marijuana program is highly controlled with regular testing. She said there’s a big difference between the regulated medical marijuana facilities and the cannabis lounges being proposed in the Town of Shawangunk.
“When you have a medical dispensary, you’re attracting people who have gone to a doctor, who have a card from the state and it’s controlled,” she said. “But if you’re going to open up a smoking lounge, you’re going to have problems. You’re going to attract a certain element.”
Leif Spencer, a retired Newburgh police officer, said he didn’t want marijuana businesses located in the Town of Shawangunk. He worries that there could be a rise in traffic accidents from those who consume the products and then drive in the town.
“Are we going to risk the public safety of members of our community to make a dollar?” he asked. “I truly believe the risks are going to outweigh the benefits. New Paltz will love it. They can go to New Paltz and buy it. They can go to Orange County. Shawangunk shouldn’t. We’re one of the safest communities in the state and the country. Let’s keep it that way.”
The Town Board will schedule a public hearing on the local law in the near future if it decides to opt out.
“I’ve been following the neighboring towns and I’m a firm believer we don’t have to be the first to do anything,” Valk said.
In other news, Eric Orr, first vice president of the Hudson Valley Volunteer Fireman’s Association, appeared before the board to make certain that the 2022 parade scheduled for next June in the Town of Shawangunk was still on. He said he was concerned with comments made by board members about the size of past parades by the organization in the Sept. 9 issue of the Wallkill Valley Times.
“We’re now at the point where we’d like to move forward but reading in the paper it kind of sounds like we’re not approved now,” he said. “So I’d like to have that clarified. Are we approved or not?”
Valk said the board had previously said it would make a decision in September. Following some discussion between himself and board members, Orr came away satisfied that the parade would be held in the town in June of 2022.
“In the paper, it sounded like they were backing down but that’s not the case,” Orr said. “They just had questions. I’m satisfied that we can move forward with it now.”