Following a brief but engaging public hearing the Garden City Board of Trustees voted to “opt out” of allowing the sale of cannabis products within the Village.

Under New York State law, municipalities can refuse to allow the sale of such products, although they will forego any sales taxes from cannabis sales. The possession and use of cannabis is still allowed throughout New York State since the law changed on March 31, 2021.

Garden City’s new law,  entitled “Cannabis Prohibition” will be added into the Village Code following the trustees’ 7 to 0 vote. (Trustee Louis Minuto was absent from the November 4 meeting.) 

With Board’s approval of the new law, New York State will not be able to issue any licenses for any cannabis retail, adult-use or on-site consumption establishments to open within Village of Garden City boundaries. 

The Village had a deadline of December 31, 2021 for opting-out, per state regulations, but under state law it may later change its mind and “opt-in.”

In opting-out the Village of Garden City will forfeit any part of the 4% sales tax revenue available to villages that participate in the New York State legalization of cannabis sales. 

As explained at a prior meeting, within Garden City limits, if both the Village and the Town of Hempstead had permitted cannabis retail sales, then that percent of sales tax would be distributed between the Town of Hempstead and Village of Garden City, “as agreed upon by the Town of Hempstead and Garden City governing bodies.” That is no longer a potential revenue stream to the village.

After hearing from over a half-dozen residents Mayor Cosmo Veneziale suggested continuing the public hearing until at least the next Board of Trustees’ meeting, set for Thursday November 18. But two of his fellow board members — Trustee John Delany, who has been staunchly in favor of the opt-out, and Trustee Mary Carter Flanagan — expressed their interest in the vote taking place last Thursday immediately after the hearing. They noted how the issue was raised at a few prior board meetings, although during the November 4 public hearing the potential for a community-wide referendum on the Opt-Out was brought up by a resident. 

Trustee Delany noted that since October 21, information had been posted on the village website about the proposed Local Law and November 4 Village Board public hearing, including details from NYCOM (New York Conference of Mayors) General Counsel Wade Beltramo, “New York’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act: The Legalization of Adult Use Cannabis in New York.”

The village’s new Local Law is still subject to a permissive referendum (community vote). During the November 4 meting, Village Attorney Peter Bee addressed how a referendum could be mandated, and he explained the Board’s process of a vote setting a timeline into effect:

“If a petition were put together by a village resident for the Local Law to be subject to a permissive referendum, with the petition properly filed and with the proper number of resident signatures, then the matter would be put out to a vote by the public. It is subject to a permissive referendum under Section 24 of the General Municipal Home Rule Law, and that section in turn refers you to Article IX of the Village law which allows for within 10 days of the adoption of any resolution approved by the Board which is subject to a permissive referendum, the Village Clerk must publish an abstract of the resolution and a concise statement of its purpose, and that it is subject to a permissive referendum. The permissive referendum would be necessitated with a petition gaining 20% as a minimum percentage of registered voters’ signatures as of the last Village election, within 30 days,” Bee said.

He also informed the trustees that the Local Law had a deadline of December 31, 2021 to be enacted, but the referendum and its outcome would not be on a timeline limited to December 31, and the result of a referendum (if one does take place) would not impact the status of Garden City enacting the local law in time for it to be on state record and in effect for early 2022.

The first public comments at the public hearing came from Charles Kelly of Kilburn Road, who explained his perspective as a federal prosecutor having dealt with illegal drug sales out of Long Island convenience stores. He noted synthetic cannabis and K2/Spice which is a mixture of plant material sprayed with synthetic psychoactive chemicals, and could lead to serious health and safety effects. Kelly said he supported the addition of Chapter 78 being part of Village Code.

“It’s often packaged with cartoon characters including the Seven Dwarfs, Joker, and more. There were attractive and catchy titles that made them more directed towards underage purchases. I find a lot of pot sales going on with packaging of gummies and other items to be reminiscent of those prosecutions…It is a short walk from marijuana to putting a spray on it and making it, if not deadly, certainly a chemical that can cause serious illness. In connection with the sales out of one convenience store we had a lot of young people taken to the ER. I think it’s a short walk from selling marijuana out of a store to spraying and spicing it up to sell the illegal drugs and it puts a significant burden on law enforcement to shut something like that down. It typically resulted in undercover buys to get a search warrant and then time is taken to execute the search warrant, which represents a significant burden to law enforcement and significant cost for the village,” Kelly said. 

Resident suggests referendum

Another in-person comment during the public hearing was delivered by recent Garden City High School graduate and current collegian Trent Biscone. He told the Board of Trustees he is very concerned about the Board’s decision to opt out of cannabis sales, and he does not believe this opt-out should occur without a community referendum.

Biscone reminded the Board and Mayor Veneziale that consumption of cannabis is and will be legal statewide and “no opt-out move can change that, as all it would do is limit business opportunities for entrepreneurs in the village.”

“No matter what it would still be legal for someone to light up a joint outside of Village Hall, and Garden City will be missing out on a 3 to 4% sales tax on all cannabis products that could be sold in the village. The revenues could potentially be used to reduce real estate taxes for residents. A study published in Regional Science & Urban Economics found that when cannabis dispensaries opened in Colorado the crime rates declined at a 19% faster rate than in surrounding neighborhoods without dispensaries. Very likely it was the result of diminishing the illegal market and replacing it with a legal one,” he commented. 

Biscone declared “I think the Board of Trustees should not be making knee-jerk decisions like this without reaching out to the residents first and gauging public opinion. I think it will be illogical, hypocritical and pointless for the Village to opt out of cannabis sales; the only reason someone would be opposed to it is because they personally do not like it. I do not like alcohol and I do not like being around people who are so intoxicated that they become aggressive or physically ill, but I am not demanding that bars or liquor stores in the village be eliminated as I simply choose to stay away from them. I do not like cigarettes or the odors they produce but I am not going out of my way to prevent anyone from purchasing or smoking them, or starting a business selling them.”

Just a few years ago, while a Garden City High School upperclassman, Trent Biscone said he served as a high school ambassador for the Central Property Owners’ Association. Trent also became a volunteer firefighter with the GCFD in early 2019. 

Biscone pointed out a few statements made by Village Board members at previous meetings, such as what he referred to as a “baseless claim” that people could use cannabis from a local dispensary/store and walk into traffic. Biscone told the Board there’s a greater risk of a person impaired by alcohol creating this kind of scenario. 

“A study from University of Minnesota researchers, published in Traffic Injury Prevention, a bimonthly peer-reviewed academic journal, found that cannabis’ legalization did not lead to an increase in motor vehicle crashes OR pedestrian-involved motor vehicle crashes, and this study was based on data accumulated from 1991 through 2018,” he said.

Biscone continued, “I have a lot of respect for all Village of Garden City officials, paid and volunteer, but I respectfully disagree with comments by one official (on October 21) saying he did not care about potential for an increase in the tax revenue from cannabis sales, because he is more concerned with the quality of life — however there is no evidence supporting the claim that any cannabis businesses would reduce the quality of life in the village. Using other state’s adult-use cannabis dispensaries and New York State medical cannabis dispensaries as a precedent, these are not low-end run-down head shops. The dispensaries are beautifully-decorated, heavily-secured and well-maintained and often compared to art galleries.”

Comments from Zoom participants

Residents tuning into the Village Board’s November 4 meeting via Zoom offered contrasting views on the potential for cannabusinesses to locate in Garden City. Beth Bennett commented about the indirect comparison of alcohol and cannabis as Biscone alluded to, as she said there are much more substantial studies involving alcohol use and its impacts than for cannabis: “We do not really know what we are getting into with this — for our village’s purposes I would say, ‘Opt Out.” 

Bennett compared the atmosphere of a neighborhood her sister lives in, in which a cannabis dispensary opened, and how there seemed to be drug dealers then coming into the area to scope the clientele. 

Anne Griffin of Garden Street said while she has no problem with the legalization of cannabis in the state, “there is a time and a place for its sale and use as it’s a personal decision for an adult.” Her major concern for Garden City, should cannabusinesses come into the community, is the impacts that could have on the heavily family-oriented village. She asked the Board to discuss at length the locations of communities surrounding Garden City, and the distances those would involve, where cannabis businesses including its sale in store settings has been “green lighted.” Griffin would like to know more details about the potential Garden City would have to be a draw if such a dispensary opened here.

“Who would be coming in from outside of our community? I am not naive enough to think that people in our community will not be going out to buy it, but that’s not the main concern. I am thinking of how this could change our very family-oriented village. Who would be coming in and out of the village and who around Garden City will have stores selling cannabis legally? If not a lot of villages or towns are having legal sales that can result in a lot of people coming here, some would be adults and some potentially a younger crowd. It just seems to me that it would be a no-brainer to wait (for opting in) to see what would happen in other nearby communities,” she said.

Griffin noted Trustee John Delany’s point of the opportunity for the Village of Garden City to opt-out expiring at the end of this year, and she told the Board “it would be a totally different discussion if we had to make the decision, and would not have the opportunity to opt-in later.”

“If there’s still more information to gather, and I can’t imagine there would not be, why don’t we hold up and see what happens to similar communities, see how it’s affecting them, and then as a community of decide that (allowing cannabusinesses) is a good choice for us then we can opt-in,” she commented.

Laurence Galli, a resident of 2nd Street, also addressed the Board of Trustees at the public hearing. He commented on the potential benefits of cannabis to assist in health and combatting fatigue, adding that he’s acquainted with “several upstanding members” of the Garden City community who frequently use cannabis. He noted that as cannabis is legalized, members of the community will “get cannabis no matter where it is, and they could even grow it in their gardens at home.” Part of the issues he wants the village to consider involve helping residents better understand cannabis’ purposes, especially if it can be taken as a pill and regulated for medicinal treatment, instead of taken in forms of  “joints or gummies.”

“Education around cannabis has to be at the forefront, whether it’s at the local level, state level or national level. I believe information on cannabis has been skewed to the negative side, for probably 50 years or more. Cannabis can not only be used as medicine but it can be used as building material and fabric for clothing, it can be used as food too, and there’s so many other applications associated with cannabis and its legalization in the state that perhaps we have not been considering. As a community we will want to be on the forefront of that….I would agree with Anne Griffin that we should not be opting-in right away, and we should get all the facts and learn what New York State has in store — but as one of the leading communities on Long Island I do not believe we should unanimously Opt Out without having all of the facts. I am not opposed to the village opting out for now but the key is the receipt of more education. As legalization progresses I think you may find that not only is cannabis not bad for you, but it may even be good for you,” he said. 

Galli also publicly offered his time to help education efforts on cannabis in Garden City, “and to help explain how it can help everyone.” He believes the village could be a source of information for cannabis’ “benefits, harms and everything else.”

Commenting over Zoom, Bob Orosz told the Board of Trustees the FDA has not approved the marketing adaptation of cannabis for any medical treatments of diseases or conditions, nor has it approved many of the cannabis products currently on the market. 

“A 2018 study in Colorado, which has had legalized cannabis since 2013, showed that emergency room visits related to cannabis’ use increased 52% and hospitalization increased 148% while traffic-related deaths increased 151% since legalization of cannabis. This is only a prelude to what our communities in New York State would experience with the passage of this ill-advised, potentially deadly legalization of cannabis. It is my hope that the Board of Trustees will vote for the village to opt-out, and to not license the sales of cannabis in our village, for the gain in tax revenues will not outweigh the potential for harm to residents of our village — I know we can’t stop it but maybe we can at least slow it down and be on the right side of this,” Orosz explained.