Cannabis and the community in Tusten

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 11/16/21

TUSTEN, NY — The end result was a foregone conclusion at Tusten’s cannabis public hearing on Tuesday, November 9.

The board had voted several times before on the issue under …

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Cannabis and the community in Tusten

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TUSTEN, NY — The end result was a foregone conclusion at Tusten’s cannabis public hearing on Tuesday, November 9.

The board had voted several times before on the issue under discussion—whether to opt out of the state’s licensing of cannabis dispensaries and smoking lounges, effectively banning both within the Town of Tusten. Board members voted largely holding the positions they had established in their earlier votes after the November public hearing, voting 5-0 against on-site consumption and 3-2 against dispensaries.

Yet rhetoric at the public hearing was tense, with supporters and opponents of cannabis legalization making broad statements about what kind of community Tusten should be.

By and large, opponents of the sale of cannabis said that it had no place within the community of Tusten.

“We don’t need that type of proliferation of drugs in this community,” said Tusten resident Ned Lang. “Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”

He and other speakers repeated claims that marijuana was a gateway drug, the use of which would lead to opioid addiction.

“I can’t think of one of my [college] friends that ended up in drug addiction that didn’t start with marijuana,” said Rick Lander, owner of Landers River Trips.

Supporters of cannabis dispensaries challenged those claims. “It disturbs me greatly,” said Lava resident Star Hesse. “The same false allegations repeated over and over again, that marijuana is a gateway drug.

A 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine (cited as an authority by an anti-cannabis mailer sent out by the Landowners’ Association of Tusten) equivocated somewhat on the issue, acknowledging that marijuana typically precedes rather than follows the use of other drugs while rejecting the hypothesis that marijuana use causes later drug abuse.

“In the sense that marijuana use typically precedes rather than follows initiation of other illicit drug use, it is indeed a “gateway” drug,” the report states. “But because underage smoking and alcohol use typically precede marijuana use, marijuana is not the most common, and is rarely the first, ‘gateway’ to illicit drug use. There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”

Whether cannabis use leads to the use of other drugs or not, residents at the hearing were concerned that its presence would change the character of the town.

“Marijuana sales or a marijuana bar doesn’t fit in Narrowsburg,” said Tusten resident Bernie Lohmann. “It’s not New York City. If you like New York City and want to smoke pot, go back! Nobody’s stopping you.”

Cannabis was already in Tusten, its supporters fired back. And it was legal in New York State, now, whatever the town decided.

“Lots of people you guys know either deal it or do it in the town already, if you want to admit it in public or not,” said Brandi Merolla. She added, “It’s not about people going back to the city—I’m here 32 years, I’m not going anywhere.”

The matter will likely be decided by a community referendum. In casting the deciding vote against legalization, supervisor Ben Johnson stated that he voted against it so the people would get the chance to have their say. “We’ve got enough people on either side, let’s find out how important it is to them, let them go to the voting box and put it forth.”

Merolla stated in her public comments that she had brought the necessary petitions to the meeting, expecting the board to opt out; as of Monday, November 15, she says she has gathered almost the required number of signatures for a referendum.

On the opposing side, Lang spoke against the referendum, saying, “If there there is a referendum coming up, we will work hard to shut that referendum down.”

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