Several residents came out to a recent Saugerties Town Board meeting to express opposition to the Town opting into either cannabis retail shops or consumption lounges.
About a dozen speakers voiced a slew of concerns about the shops during a public hearing on proposed updates to zoning regulations within the Town. The hearing was dominated by residents sharing their concerns with proposed new regulations for any owners of potential cannabis retail locations.
Town Supervisor Fred Costello said Town officials will make a decision about opting-in to allow either cannabis shops and or consumption lounges by the end of the year.
Still, that possibility doesn’t sit easily with some residents like Robert Cranston who said he doesn’t believe the legal industry can’t compete for underground sales. He cited a November Guardian article that reported that 80-90 percent of sales are still underground despite legalization.
“This whole thing about money,” he said. “Why are we doing this just because other people are doing it.” He questioned if the Town has reached out to health and mental health professionals and those who work in drug and alcohol treatment before opting in under the new state law.
Cranston noted that he fears car insurance rates will go up with legal cannabis sales because of people buying and using cannabis products and getting behind the wheel.
He pointed to the Town of Ulster which recently voted against allowing consumption lounges. Earlier this month, Ulster voted to allow cannabis shops.
Barclay Height’s resident Pete Dolan said he’s worried about legalized cannabis sales for anything but medical use.
Dolan recalled how cannabis was around in the 1970s when he worked on the railroad. He pointed to a 1987 fatal crash between an Amtrak train and a set of Conrail Locomotives in Maryland where the Conrail engineer was found to be under the influence of cannabis as a reason why recreational sales should not be legalized.
He said on other occasions he’s heard of people being picked up out of tunnels unconscious after using cannabis. “The lessons I learned were not to touch this stuff out of a position of responsibility,” Dolan said. “It’s dangerous. For medical, it’s use is fabulous. When misused, it’s like a loaded gun.”
He said he doesn’t even imagine what would happen if someone gets behind the wheel of a car after using it. He said he wants to protect his children and grandchildren. “You’re taking tremendous responsibility,” pointing out to the board.
Rich Caliendo said his son is a police officer and he’s angered by anything that makes his job risky and he feels legalized marijuana sales will do just that.
Costello said the fact is that cannabis is now legal statewide and Town officials are just seeking to build a framework to make it the least offensive to the community as possible.
As he’s stated at previous meetings, he said he believes the Town should opt-in because it gives officials more control over zoning.
“This will ensure it’s not plopped in the middle of Town,” he said.
A strong zoning framework will also help to ensure it stays away from places where kids are, like schools and churches, Costello said. “I think we can agree, the farther away from these institutions the better.”
Costello added if the Town opts out, a petition can be brought forth to override the opt-out forcing Town officials to respond.
The simple fact is there is a percentage of Town residents who use, Costello said. “I’d rather see us opt-in than push it the edges.”
Costello said Town officials are here to benefit from the public comment during public hearings before they make any decisions. And the board is taking time to digest everything before making any decisions.
“We want to make sure everyone’s concerns are expressed, still we have to balance that with folks who want to use the product in a legal fashion,” Costello said.