Irvington has until Dec. 31 of this year to opt out of a provision of the recently enacted New York State Cannabis Law that allows marijuana dispensaries and on-site facilities for using cannabis. Local governments must hold public hearings on the subject and then, if they want to prohibit such businesses, they must pass a resolution to that effect by the end of the year.

If a locality fails to formally opt out by then, a cannabis-related business can be opened in that jurisdiction. There is no provision to opt out after the deadline, but it would be possible for a local government that has opted out in 2021 to opt back in later. Once they opt in, though, the decision is irrevocable.

The Village held the first of two public hearings on this subject on Aug. 30; the second one is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 20. The village board is also welcoming correspondence from residents.

At the beginning of the Aug. 30 hearing, Mayor Brian Smith read four letters from residents, all stating their objection to having cannabis dispensaries in Irvington. 

Smith said that with a new administration in Albany, “There’s very little guidance on how this is all going to work, so, to me, we don’t even know what we can regulate. There’s some vague language about ‘reasonable times’ [for cannabis businesses to be open] but if reasonable means 9 to 5, or until midnight, we don’t know. There’s too many uncertainties.”

He continued, “As a group, we discussed that we’re probably learning toward opting out at this time, even if we decide to opt back in in the future. But we really want to hear what the public has to say about this.”

Would cannabis dispensaries be a desirable amenity in Irvington? Peter Bernstein, a member of Irvington Activists, a group of residents who support a variety of progressive causes, believes they would. He stated during the hearing that cannabis dispensaries should be allowed “just for convenience… to be able to do shopping locally. Buying marijuana at a dispensary is a great in-person experience because it enables, unlike when it was on the black market and people would just buy it like in the shadows and buy whatever product was available, you can go and talk to a professional and get high-quality product that doesn't have any additives. You get personalized advice as far as dosage and quality, if you want something very weak, something that will help you sleep, for back pain... you can have a discussion with somebody... Another advantage of dispensaries: people have to smoke marijuana generally to use it, but now, [with] legal marijuana you can ingest it in different forms — oral, edible, by vape — and that makes it better for people as well.”

Bernstein pointed out that alcohol is widely available throughout the downtown: “We do allow adult recreational use of potentially harmful substances in our village already. And finally, I would just say, the studies show that the locations of dispensaries, the availability of legal marijuana, does not increase child use. It hasn’t happened in any states in the country or in any country around the world.”

In the view of Irvington Schools Superintendent Kristopher Harrison, allowing a marijuana dispensary in downtown Irvington would be a step backward. Harrison, who is now in his 10th year as district superintendent, said, “During that time, we have worked very closely with the Village, the Community Advisory Board, and iASK-CAB to insure we’re providing ample educational supports to our students to make responsible decisions. And I believe that body of work has really called for our community to speak together and say that we need to opt out — that we cannot provide this risk, this temptation in our community. Drugs, alcohol are all too easy to come by as it is today. And we don’t need to add this additional stressor. We don’t need to make it that much easier for young folks in our community to access marijuana. There are enough concerns and pressures in their lives. Let’s work together, please, to make sure that we don’t make this temptation all this much easier.”

Smith said that iASK representatives had visited a village board work session recently and that they shared Harrison’s view, citing studies on the development of the adolescent brain and how cannabis affects that. “I think [the desire to opt out] has been a pretty clear message from those of you that are looking out for youth,” he said. 

The final person to comment was resident John Dawson, who asked, “What steps are you taking for the police to accurately assess cannabis influencing drivers?” Smith said, “We spoke to the chief [of police] about this. Frankly, there isn’t a good way to do it now. You can do field sobriety tests, but there isn’t the equivalent of a Breathalyzer... but many firms are working on getting some kind of field test that will accurately measure current levels. So I think the short answer is, there isn’t a good tool right now, which is one reason I would also like to opt out, until [testing] becomes something that is workable. Because driving under the influence of marijuana is just as bad as driving under the influence of alcohol, and there’s just no easy way to detect it.”

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