By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
CAIRO —Cairo officials voted 3-2 Wednesday to opt out of permitting marijuana dispensaries and lounges in the town.
The vote came following a standing-room-only public hearing where the vast majority of speakers supported dispensaries. None spoke in favor of lounges where on-site use of cannabis would be allowed.
Under New York state law, municipalities have until Dec. 31 to opt out of permitting cannabis businesses. If no action is taken, the municipality is automatically opted in.
Communities do not have the option to ban the use of recreational marijuana, which was legalized by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in April.
Voting against permitting dispensaries and lounges were Town Supervisor John Coyne and Town Council members MaryJo Cords and Tim Powers. Town Councilmen Stephen Kralovich and Jason Watts voted to opt in.
Board members voting against opting in said they wanted to take a wait-and-see attitude to see how other towns that have opted in fare.
Coyne said he had mixed feelings about the issue.
“I think New York state is trying to push this a little too much,” Coyne said. “My concern is that there are too many unknowns yet and that is just my opinion. I think we can say it will be fine, but there is nothing here in town to address this kind of business.”
Kralovich, who voted to opt in, said he changed his mind about the issue after hearing so many people in the audience who supported it.
“As a board member, it makes you think, if so many people came out for this,” Kralovich said. “I will be honest — I was kind of leaning in the other direction, but listening to everyone and the passion, it makes you think.”
Watts voted to opt in and said a wait-and-see attitude could cost the town money.
“I am afraid if we opt out, businesses are going to skip right over us and we will miss the opportunity because we are not ready for them,” Watts said.
Watts said he surveyed shoppers at the Hannaford supermarket about the issue and the great majority were in favor. The responses, he said, were sometimes surprising to him.
“I asked from elderly people right down to 18, everybody that would vote, and it was 95% of the people said they were for it or they didn’t have an opinion,” Watts added. “Only about 5% of the people said no, absolutely not.”
Most of the people in the audience were in favor of permitting dispensaries.
“It’s my opinion that it is not a bad thing to have a dispensary,” Claudia Zucker said. “I don’t think it’s a great idea to have lounges, but I think a dispensary is a great thing for the town. I understand it is very expensive to get the license and I am for it. As a business owner on Main Street, I am for it.”
Several supporters of dispensaries said they would bring both tax dollars and additional economic activity to the area.
“In Saugerties, four stores are opening,” Robert Malkin said. “Hudson stores are opening, Catskill stores are opening. Are we sending our people here and tourists to those towns? Why? If you look at Great Barrington (where dispensaries are permitted), all the restaurants, they are getting so much business.”
Augie Freeman believes the town will miss out if they opt out now and then opt in later on.
“If you wait — and if you have a business owner who wants to buy land and open something here — if you kick this can down the road three months, six months, he will be somewhere else,” Freeman said. “This is going to be fast and furious when it happens. It will be a done deal. People that have the funds to do these things are going to do it quickly. They want to be open and operational.”
“Are pot heads scary?” he added. “They are not. It’s not that big of a deal.”
Attorney Monica Kenny-Keff was one of a couple of residents and business owners who spoke in favor of opting out and not permitting dispensaries in the town.
“I am supporting opting out because you can opt back in. The more information you had to make the decision, the better it is,” Kenny-Keff said.
In Colorado, where dispensaries have been permitted since 2012, the economic impact was harmful in the beginning, she said.
“Insurance rates in Colorado are through the roof. They have lost money — Colorado lost millions when they first did it. It is going to take them years just to break even,” Kenny-Keff said. “Where my building is on Main Street, I have had to call the police several times for the drug addicts hanging out down the street…. Catskill may be opting in, Coxsackie has opted in. Jewett has opted out. Durham, I believe, is opting out. So we are not the only ones saying wait, let’s see how this goes.”
Nancy Maginn (sp?) supported permitting dispensaries.
“I totally agree with opting in on the law,” she said. “Already we have high marijuana use in this area and oftentimes it is laced with other things. Waiting will just put us behind the eight-ball. We have surrounding communities that are already opting in and on top of that, Cairo needs revenue. Why would we leave money on the table? I don’t understand why the board would even consider opting out at this point.”
Business owner Sheila Gallagher urged board members to check out cannabis dispensaries in other states, such as Massachusetts, to see how they operate.
“You really should visit — these are professional businesses. These people have to put a lot of money into these businesses. I am absolutely for opting in,” Gallagher said. “Cairo needs businesses. These are businesses just like any other. We cannot opt out of this. We need to go forward. If we opt out and then try to go back later, we will miss the bus.”