The agenda portion of the regular Village of Valley Stream meeting on Monday was over in minutes, with agenda items detailing unglamorous village business read aloud and voted on with assembly-like efficiency. Then, for nearly an hour during the public-comment period, attendees spoke at length about an issue far removed from the agenda — the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.
Specifically, the question on people’s minds was whether village trustees should vote to opt out of licensed cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption lounges in the village. For the last four meetings, the opt-out question has dominated attendees’ comments, as the end-of-year deadline to decide whether to opt out is fast approaching.
Resident Carmine Fiore, a small business owner and veteran, is a prospective retail cannabis business candidate who spoke in support of cannabis dispensaries in the village. Legal dispensaries, Fiore said, would “undercut the illegal cannabis market,” helping to ensure that marijuana stayed out of the hands of young people under 21. He noted that marijuana sold on the street is “not tested for chemicals, hard metals or other legal substances that can be added to and be very dangerous to cannabis consumers at any age.”
“The board and the town must realize that it has residents that are cannabis consumers…” he said. “How can the board say [marijuana] is legal for adult use but at the same token not allow consumers a safe location for purchase and cannabis consumption?”
Resident Linda Daris, a cannabis sale supporter, said, “We all know that other so-called vices such as cigarettes and gambling are legalized and regulated in New York state, so marijuana should be regulated in the same way. How many bars allow patrons to stand around outside and drink alcohol without some special permit to do so? Why should cannabis clubs be any different?”
Daris said she does not smoke cigarettes and finds the smell of them as “disgusting” as those opposed to cannabis use find marijuana smoke. Yet, she said, “I have less rights than a cigarette smoker does because you can smoke publicly, and all I can do to avoid [it] is get away from you as quickly as possible.”
She added, “Teens in Valley Stream who want to buy weed already know where to get it, so let’s take it out of the hands of the black market and place it in a regulated environment.”
While most attendees echoed their support for cannabis retail dispensaries, one woman, Dina Bianco, stood in opposition. “This is about quality of life for Valley Stream residents,” she said. “People want to make money. They don’t care about quality of life. It’s a slippery slope. People that are doing this, they don’t live here. They didn’t go to school here. They just want to make money.”
Trustee Dermond Thomas wondered whether marijuana dispensaries might overrun other businesses, including cafés. “What we care about is the overall face of the village,” he said. “We want the village to be the most diverse, interesting, entertaining, exciting place for everyone. If we create an atmosphere where one business becomes the business, then obviously we lose that.”
Fiore, in turn, enumerated the safeguards put in place by MRTA that empower local governments to tailor regulations to meet community standards.
Mayor Ed Fare said, “We have received multiple presentations, both pro and con. The board has been trying its best to do its due diligence and learn all aspects of the situation.”
“Both sides of the argument are very compelling,” Trustee John Tufarelli said. “I think it’s time that we have to get to an agreement, one way or the other.”
No date for an opt-out vote has yet been scheduled.
Should the village vote to opt out, residents may hold a referendum to override the board’s decision. Residents would need to submit a petition signed by twenty percent of registered voters as of the last general village election within 30 days of the passage of the local law, according to state officials.