Guilderland board reverses itself, allowing pot dispensaries

— Still frame from April 5 Guilderland Town Board meeting

Wesley Hale, who uses medical marijuana to ease his pain, told the Guilderland Town Board on Tuesday, “You could go out in Guilderland in the black market and you could get marijuana.” But, he said, you wouldn’t know if it was safe.

GUILDERLAND — In a split vote on Tuesday, the town board reversed an earlier decision and decided to allow marijuana dispensaries in town.

The two councilwomen on the all-Democratic board elected since the original vote — Amanda Beedle and Christine Napierski — voted with Supervisor Peter Barber to allow dispensaries.

Councilwomen Laurel Bohl and Rosemary Centi stuck with their original votes.

Barber said the reason for revisiting the issue wasn’t just because of the new board members but because the original vote, last October, was taken before state regulations had been formulated. Barber had voted no with the rest of the board in October.

Guilderland is not allowing parlors for imbibing cannabis. Having opted into the dispensaries, the town cannot opt out.

The state’s Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act legalized adult recreational use of marijuana in March 2021. Anyone 21 and older may legally possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana and can have up to five pounds of marijuana at home. 

Then, in March of this year, the state’s Cannabis Control Board voted unanimously to propose the regulations to allow the first retail licenses to be given to people who have been convicted of pot-related crimes or their relatives. The applications for the priority licenses are expected to open this summer.

Tuesday’s Guilderland Town Board vote followed a spirited public hearing, with one town resident calling the move “regressive” and another terming it “progressive.”

The hearing opened with Wesley Hale reading a letter from doctors Mark and Marisa Winther of 315 Millingstone Way in Altamont, describing themselves as highly trained medical professionals who want to open an adult recreational cannabis dispensary.

Marisa Winther holds a doctor of pharmacy degree and practices from her home. Mark Winther is a medical doctor, listed as chief of emergency and trauma services at Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown. 

“This community can pioneer this industry,” wrote the Winthers, whom Hale said were away on vacation. They described cannabis as “a medication that is highly regulated by the government” that can treat ailments like pain and anxiety.

“It is not a liquor store,” the Winthers wrote of a dispensary, which they described as having an armed security guard who would check patrons’ identifications as well as having a scanning system to see patrons don’t go over the state-set daily limit.

The Winthers cited studies showing crime rates were reduced by about 19 percent in areas with dispensaries and promised to run their dispensary in a “safe and tasteful manner.”

“There’s a cost to everything,” countered Guilderland resident Karen White, who advised waiting until more was known.

She said she remembered when Crossgates Mall came to town and no one realized then a police station would be set up there, paid for by the town.

White said the medical cannabis dispensary in Executive Park behind Stuyvesant Plaza is already available to people in chronic pain.

In 2015, Mark Filoramo had applied to Guilderland’s zoning board for a special-use permit for a medical marijuana dispensary at 10 Executive Park Drive.

Christopher Longo agreed with White. “When in history has more drug use benefitted a community?” he asked, asserting that recreational use of marijuana “has no positive use” and that the town would be complicit in normalizing a drug culture.

He also said that forcing a person to drive to another town to buy pot “would be the resistance that person needed.”

Calling it “regressive,” Longo concluded, “We should resist this temptation to say yes to drugs.”

Another Guilderland resident, Gerd Beckmann, held up his phone and said he had just googled to see if dispensaries increased neighborhood crime.

He then read from the piece that came up, quoting an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver, Lorine Hughs, saying that neighborhoods with one or more medical or recreational dispensaries saw increased crime rates that were between 26 and 1,452 percent higher than in neighborhoods without any commercial marijuana activity.

The rest of Lorine’s quote is: “But we also found that the strongest associations between dispensaries and crime weakened significantly over time.”

The report goes on to say the authors caution that the results of the study, based only on information from Denver immediately after legalization and before market saturation, may not be appropriate for generalization to other geographic areas. The authors also note that, because the study relied on official police data to measure crime and disorder, it’s possible that police targeted neighborhoods with marijuana dispensaries, which would over-estimate the association between these facilities and crime and disorder.

“I think it’s actually progressive,” said Ted Neumann of Altamont

He said prohibition had been horribly detrimental to segments of society and also that Guilderland residents are currently spending their money, on buying marijuana, in other states.

“It’s time we bring the money back here,” said Neumann.

Another Guilderland resident, Thomas Quaglieri, said pot shouldn’t be looked at like the Black Plague. He said he’d be smoking pot at Tawasentha Park, until Barber informed him no smoking is allowed at town parks.

“Frenchs Hollow, let’s say,” Quaglieri continued, stressing people will buy it elsewhere if they can’t get it in Guilderland.

“I don’t think it’s going to bring the area down …,” Quaglieri said. “If you wait, you’ll miss the opportunity.”

Ultimately, Hale made the most compelling case. He returned to the microphone in his wheelchair, with bruised purple ankles exposed. He said he had a rare disease that causes muscle spasms, enduring up to two hours at a time of considerable pain.

Hale said it is “next to impossible” to find doctors who take the coursework needed to write prescriptions for medical marijuana. Hale goes out of state, to Massachusetts or Rhode Island, to buy edibles to ease his pain since New York doesn’t allow them, he said. Cannabis terpenes also help him and also are not available under New York’s restrictive medical program, Hale said.

He said most patrons at the dispensaries are like him — “old geezers with medical problems.”

Later, Hale told the board that, since the federal government has not legalized marijuana, it’s not covered by Medicare.

He also said that he has severe neuropathy and doctors had him on opioids for that, medication that caused him to pass out. He was forced to retire after he broke his back, Hale said.

Right now, Hale said, “You could go out in Guilderland in the black market and you could get marijuana.” But, he said, you wouldn’t know if it was safe — it could be laced with fentanyl.

Noting how few licenses will be given out statewide, Hale concluded, “If you’re lucky to get one license, that would be a miracle.”


Board views

“I’m not saying it’s good or bad,” said Barber after noting that, whether or not Guilderland has dispensaries, residents will be able to buy pot. Most of the municipalities in Albany County have agreed to allow dispensaries, he said, and people can also grow it in their homes.

The state law, Barber said, makes it clear that local communities can decide on the time, place, and manner in which dispensaries operate. The only state regulations are that a dispensary can’t be within 500 feet of a school or within 200 feet of a house of worship.

Before an application is filed with the state’s Cannabis Control Board, it must be submitted to the town.

Barber cited an estimate that Guilderland would bring in $185,000 once a dispensary is up and running. “I’d rather have the revenue because people are going to be buying it,” Barber said.

According to the state, the 4-percent tax that goes to the locality where the dispensary is located is apportioned based on sales — 1 percent is retained by the county and 3 percent goes to, or gets divided by, the municipality or municipalities with dispensaries.

During the first six months of 2020, The Enterprise reported last month, individual retail dispensaries averaged daily sales of about $8,600, according to data compiled by three companies operating in different parts of the cannabis industry: wholesale, retail, and employment.

Bohl said she saw dispensaries as similar to liquor stores and raised concerns about sales at Crossgates Mall or at-home deliveries. 

Bohl called allowing dispensaries before rules were in place was “putting the cart before the horse” and concluded, “I’m just a careful person.”

Barber countered that sales have to take place in a store with an entrance at street level on a public thoroughfare so there wouldn’t be a dispensary at Crossgates nor would there be home delivery.

He also said it didn’t make sense for the town to invest time and effort into setting up rules until the use was allowed.

Centi said she had done a lot of research, speaking to the police chief, to residents, and to the Colonie supervisor. She suggested revisiting the issue when more data is available.

Centi also said her son, who lives in Massachusetts, described the traffic near a dispensary there as “unbelievable.”

Napierski said she favored dispensaries as “a way to right a wrong that happened in society.”

A disproportionate number of Blacks and Latinos were arrested and jailed when marijuana was illegal.

Napierski said people considered for the first licenses will not be approved just because they were convicted of marijuana-related offenses but also because they are small business owners. This, she said, will create generational wealth for a class of people left out and oppressed in our society.

Napierski also said that growing marijuana as a crop in upstate New York will help people.

Beedle made a passionate personal plea based on her sister-in-law suffering from a brain tumor. Cannabis was the only thing that released her from “blinding, crippling pain,” Beedle said.

Her sister-in-law’s doctor preferred that to opioids, she said. Beedle called The Enterprise on Thursday to explain her sister-in-law lives out of town and Beedle just wants to make sure people are safely consuming.

Beedle went on during Tuesday's meeting to talk about the dangers of the unregulated sale of cannabis, ranging from pesticides to molds. Regulation, she said, would reduce harm and ensure consumer choice.

She referenced the current “thriving black market” and said of marijuana, “It’s here so I’d like to see it regulated.”

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