PETER R. BARBER/Amy Rogers speaks at Amsterdam Town Hall during a public hearing on the growing and selling of cannabis in town on Wednesday.
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM — Town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza pulled his sponsorship of a proposed local law to opt out of allowing retail cannabis sales and consumption sites in the town, saying the measure should instead be put to a local referendum for residents to decide.
The Town Board approved a 30-day moratorium on the installation or consideration of recreational marijuana dispensaries or cannabis consumption sites by a 3-1 vote during a special meeting on March 31 called by DiMezza less than 24-hours after the state legalized adult-use recreational marijuana.
That action was the preamble to the presentation of a local law during Wednesday’s regular meeting proposed by DiMezza to officially opt out of allowing cannabis retail dispensaries and consumption sites within the town. The state law legalizing recreational marijuana allows municipalities until Dec. 31 to opt out of allowing retail cannabis sales within their boundaries. The state is currently developing regulations for retails sales that are expected to take about 18 months to put in place.
Yet, DiMezza pulled his sponsorship of the local law during the meeting Wednesday and no other board members moved the legislation, killing the action without it ever coming to a formal vote.
The town supervisor argued against allowing retail marijuana sales in the town last month, saying the facilities would be harmful to the character of the community, pointing to long lines at dispensaries in Massachusetts following the legalization of cannabis. The former police officer also voiced safety concerns, worried about pot smokers getting behind the wheel after lighting up.
Although his views have not changed, DiMezza said, the decision of whether the town opts out of marijuana sales and consumption sites should be put to its residents.
“I’m still not convinced,” DiMezza said. “But I really am a firm believer that this is such an important issue that it should go out for a referendum to the people. We have time to do that.”
DiMezza urged the Town Board to consider adopting a resolution before the July deadline to have a local referendum asking voters whether the town should opt out of retail marijuana sales placed on the ballot during the general election in November.
Regardless of the outcome, DiMezza pointed to safeguards in the state law that will create several agencies that will authorize the opening of marijuana businesses and regulate the industry.
“The restrictions on opening up a place are going to be very stringent. Additionally, we’re not even sure that we’ll get one in the town, because there’s only 11 across the whole state of Massachusetts from what I understand,” DiMezza. “Every town and village just because they want the money is not going to get one. They’re like liquor stores, you can’t put a liquor store on every corner.”
DiMezza also plans to ask the Planning Board to recommend possible amendments to the town zoning law that would determine in which areas of the town marijuana dispensaries and consumption sites would be allowed and under what conditions, including their operating hours.
Although the Town Board ultimately did not vote on the local law, a public hearing on the legislation was held at the top of the meeting that garnered a mixture of reactions from local residents.
Amy Rogers argued that marijuana sales could raise tax revenues locally while the regulation of the marijuana industry will provide safeguards that other local issues are not afforded.
“We have murders, we have heroin, we have so many problems in Amsterdam. You think pot coming in is going to make it worse? No, I just don’t believe that,” Rogers said.
Jennifer Melnick similarly highlighted Amsterdam’s potential to cash in on marijuana legalization given its shared name with the “marijuana capital of the world” in the Netherlands.
Although the state has legalized marijuana, Chris Blessing pointed out that federal law still prohibits recreational and medicinal cannabis use.
“Raising revenue by an unhealthy vice to balance budgets is wrong,” Blessing said.
Yet, marijuana is already “out there” being used by individuals facing illness, as well as everyday people, said Craig Durinick, pointing to state regulations following legalization as providing safety for users and access to new revenue streams.
Durinick is seeking to enter the industry himself and submitted a permit application to the town on March 31 seeking authorization to sell marijuana at 266 Route 67 — property he owns that is currently operated as a vape shop. The local highway is dotted by homes and businesses, which he pointed to as a selling point, saying the business would be “discrete” if allowed.
But it would not be discrete enough for neighboring property owner Bob Wojturski, who raised concerns that living next door to a dispensary would decrease the value of his property and argued against allowing dispensaries anywhere in the town.
“We don’t need it in town. Let them put it in some other town,” Wojturski said.
Although the Town Board ultimately heard from just five residents during the hearing, officials were expecting a larger turnout and deputies from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department on-hand to provide crowd control if necessary.
Town Board member Mary Maines said she was surprised by the low turnout after hearing from several passionate residents last month, but expressed pleasure at hearing a variety of viewpoints.
Maines, who supports allowing marijuana sales in the town to expand its revenue base, expressed pleasure over DiMezza’s decision to pull his sponsorship of the local law and move towards putting it to residents to decide.
“I think it’s an important matter in our town,” Maines said. “I’m glad there were people here in support and against it tonight and I think at this point it will probably go to the people.”