The town of Saugerties withdraws from retail sales and consumer shows
The town of Saugerties voted 3-2 on Wednesday, December 29 to deny both the retail sale of recreational marijuana and the consumption in salons after a lengthy public hearing where opinion was almost divided on whether or not to authorize stores.
Republicans Peg Nau and Mike Ivino cast no votes, while Democrat Leanne Thornton voiced the decisive no. City Supervisor Fred Costello and outgoing City Council member John Schoonmaker voted yes.
Supervisor Costello had suggested changing the law to separate cannabis retail sales from consumer salons, but that motion was quashed on the same line.
According to state law, municipalities that withdraw have the option of registering in the future; those who did not would not be allowed to withdraw at a later date. City officials had until December 31 to decide whether to opt out or be accepted by default under state law.
Saugerties has resisted the tendency of neighboring towns to vote to allow retail sales. Woodstock, Gardiner, Ulster and Catskill all recently voted in favor of retail. The city of Kingston also voted yes on retail sales. The city of Ulster and Gardiner voted against consumer shows.
By not voting, assistant city supervisor Leanne Thornton said she wanted to give the state’s Cannabis Control Board time to draft regulations regarding cannabis sales and then allow voters to decide. by referendum whether retail or consumer establishments could be authorized at a later date.
Despite the opt-out vote, city officials will continue to enforce zoning bylaws for cannabis establishments if such is allowed in the future, Thornton said.
“I don’t think five of us can dictate what happens in Saugerties which affects generations of young people,” she said. That said, Thornton noted that she was very supportive of medical marijuana and that it had helped members of her own family.
She said state regulations are slowly changing and that she has even heard regulations regarding the type of plants people can grow in their homes, sort and dry will not be fully in place until 2024.
Schoonmaker said much of the opposition he heard from those opposing the legalization of cannabis came from the 1960s fear of reefer madness. He said that claims that cannabis is used as a gateway drug have been proven to be false and that the drug use instead stems from mental trauma, be it alcohol or opiates.
He noted that the City already allows a number of vices like bars, liquor stores, beer shops and the sale of lottery tickets. “I would say alcohol is a lot more destructive,” Schoonmaker said.
He said users would simply travel to Massachusetts or other cities if sales are not allowed at Saugerties.
Ivino, a volunteer firefighter who has responded to numerous drug overdoses, said he was concerned about what could happen if stores were just opened in Saugerties.
The board vote came after a lively public hearing packed with people both in person and online. The speakers got quite passionate, sometimes talking to each other and even booing at each other.
Sentiments over cannabis sales appeared to be divided based on age, with all young speakers on site speaking out in favor of registration, with many older attendees urging the board to step down.
Joining in person, attorney Scott Miller expressed support for the option, noting that cannabis is just another vice like alcohol. “I walked through the Saugerties and noticed that all the bars were reverting to the ban.
He said concerns expressed by other speakers about the city’s transformation into a drug den were overblown. “Don’t let old-fashioned values prevent us from considering the benefits,” he said.
Andrew Zink, who sits on the Village Planning Council and the Trees Commission, said that by joining the meeting and hearing from those who opposed the membership, he felt like he was transported In the 1980’s.
Zink said legalized sales would take cannabis off the streets and from dealers who could also sell cocaine and methamphetamine while also benefiting struggling farmers. He added that many licenses would go to black Americans who have been disproportionately targeted and incarcerated in the war on drugs.
“It could reduce the use of other drugs,” he said, calling on the board to relocate Saugerties in the future.
“It’s already legal, let’s not back down,” he said.
On the other side, John Skeritt who said he used cannabis for 16 years after his older sister offered him a joint. He said he eventually tried almost every other drug except sticking a needle in his arm and it robbed him of his finances. He added that he “came to his senses” later and now works in the prison ministry. “Saugerties has the best hobbies like Cantine Field, why not promote it,” he said.
But others have said that using cannabis has been beneficial to them.
Alfred Anderson said he has been smoking cannabis for 15 years and it helps control anxiety and noted that if the weed is already there it will not go away.
“It makes it more reliable,” he said. He noted that the city already allows other addictive things like tobacco shops, alcohol and fast food restaurants, which he says are intentionally addictive.
“What is the point of stepping back, it creates a lack of control, choosing to participate feels more holistic,” Anderson said. “What are you afraid of, no one has ever died from weed, maybe from COPD, but more people have died from alcohol or opioids and nicotine is much more addictive, as is ‘alcohol.”
Others said they hoped the legal stores would help quell illegal sales.
Rich Cousin said he started smoking cannabis at the age of 20 until the age of 27 and smoked cannabis that contained another substance, which led him to the emergency room . Although he has never used cannabis since, he believes regulated sales from a trusted source would help prevent what happened to him from happening to someone else.
“If people don’t have access to marijuana, people will more easily get it from a dealer,” he said.
Sakinah Irizzary, a local business owner and parent, urged the board to opt for legal and controlled sales. This will help limit products to people 21 and older and fend off the illegal market even if tax revenues fall below the numbers that have been touted so far, Irizzary said.
“It’s illegal, it’s already happening,” she said. Alcohol use is a lot more of a problem than what I have seen with marijuana, ”she said.
And these illegal sales terrify Beth Murphy, who fears that unregulated cannabis bought on the streets is adulterated with very dangerous substances.
“In Vermont, they had three cases of marijuana cut with fentanyl,” she said.
Murphy said legalizing cannabis sales would mitigate that danger, as it would be regulated and sold through established channels.
Physician-prescribed opioids, not cannabis, lead to heroin use, said Susan Weeks. “And we’re not saying we should shut down pharmacies and take doctors’ licenses away.”
She said signing up would ensure Saugerties users buy local. State law includes a 13 percent sales tax on marijuana sales, with a four percent split between county and municipality.
Mary O’Donnell said she hoped the city would step aside and take the time to see how much tax revenue went up.
Loren Christian, who also spoke out against membership, said he was worried not only about children’s cannabis addiction, but also second-hand and third-hand smoke.
“We are exposing the children,” he said. “If we look beyond the propaganda, that’s very bad.