A former chair of the New Paltz Village Planning Board wants current board members to be skeptical of anyone who wants to open up a shop for selling vape pens and cartridges, but the applicants proposing to site “Puff Puff Don’t Pass” in 450 square feet next to Starbucks say that the unique selling proposition is hard-to-find snacks.
John Oleske stepped down as Planning Board chair in June of 2020, and expressed a concern around the intersection of racial equity and municipal planning. A lawyer working for the state’s attorney general, Oleske said that the rules of that job precluded advocating for changes while also serving in that volunteer position. Oleske was the only person who spoke during the July 5 public hearing about this smoke shop. “Vape shops are a dying business,” Oleske said, fated to be regulated out of existence in this state but thriving right now because this is a liminal moment for the regulation of cannabis.
It’s true that nicotine vape products had a peak in 2018 that included flavors and marketing that was appealing to children; that was curbed by more active federal regulation, including the outright banning of products from the Juul company. Oleske is also correct that this is a low point for the regulation of cannabis, as its recreational use has been legalized, but the rules around its sale in the state have yet to be finalized. If there is evidence of the assertion that cannabis vape cartridges sold on the sly make up the bulk of sales in a business like this, Oleske didn’t provide it at this Planning Board meeting. What Oleske did bring was the concern that this could be a “fly-by-night” business that will only be operated until there is regulation, potentially bringing harm to the two legitimate head shops in town during that period.
Current Planning Board chair John Litton did ask the applicants about those concerns, and received denials of anything shady. Litton made it clear that those are questions beyond this board’s purview. “We just apply zoning, not judgment.”
The specifics about the sign for this business are still being reviewed in the building department, and for that reason this application can’t be approved yet. Nevertheless, the hired architect did try to wheedle a conditional approval out of board members, as consultants do. There’s no harm in trying.