Foss: Allowing pot shops a local decision

Leaves on a marijuana plant.
Leaves on a marijuana plant.

It all depends on who you think of as a typical marijuana user.

“I wouldn’t want those people in my town,” Amsterdam Town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza said, when explaining his support for banning recreational pot sales within town borders.

The response, on social media, was ridicule, with commenters wondering who DiMezza was objecting to, exactly – hipsters with disposable income?

The implication was that the town had erred in imposing a 30-day moratorium on marijuana sales – that those traveling to dispensaries to purchase pot are a desirable constituency worth courting, not a seedy pack of ne-er-do-wells.

I tend to agree with this assessment.

Marijuana dispensaries have been around for a while, in states that moved quickly to legalize pot, and they’re typically described as well-run, clean and friendly, with an atmosphere that’s more akin to that of a nice wine store than a sketchy drug front.

This is a deliberate aesthetic choice, and it reflects how mainstream marijuana has become, and who the industry sees as its customer base: baby boomers, hippies, young adults, curiosity seekers, artists, professionals.

A wide range of perfectly ordinary people, in other words.

Given what we know about the marijuana industry, and how it’s developed in other states, it’s hard to believe a dispensary would bring crime, ruin and despair to Amsterdam.

These fears are clearly unfounded, but I don’t have any particular desire to mock the Town Board rushing to bar dispensaries, or to chastise them for their outmoded stereotypes of marijuana users.

Communities ought to be able to decide for themselves whether they want to allow dispensaries to set up shop within their borders, and if a municipality feels it’s not the right thing for them, fine.

There are plenty of places that will welcome pot dispensaries with open arms under New York’s new law legalizing marijuana, and reap the benefits.

I do think there’s a case to be made for going to the voters and asking them what they think – do they want to allow dispensaries in town, or not?

If there’s overwhelming support for permitting pot shops, perhaps the Town Board would be moved to reconsider its hostility toward pot shops.

If there’s overwhelming opposition, then the board is simply doing what voters want it to do.

It’s also worth remembering that nothing is set in stone.

If the community decides that it wants to allow dispensaries in the future, it can do that.

Frankly, there’s nothing unusual about the town of Amsterdam’s wariness of marijuana.

In states that have legalized pot, many communities have opted to ban recreational sales, even as others have embraced the opportunity to cash in on a growing market.

Take Colorado.

Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, but the issue remains controversial in some communities.

The city of Colorado Springs elected to bar recreational sales, and hasn’t changed its mind: Last summer, the City Council decided not to allow residents to vote on whether to allow dispensaries within the city, preferring to stick with the status quo.

Another Colorado city, Grand Junction, took the opposite tack, with residents voting just this past week to lift a 10-year moratorium on pot dispensaries.

Ultimately, whether to allow pot dispensaries is a local decision.

Which is as it should be.

My prediction is that New Yorkers will warm up to pot dispensaries over time, and that the number of communities allowing them will grow, just as it has in other states.

And who knows?

Perhaps one day the town of Amsterdam will be among those welcoming “those kinds of people” to town.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Opinion, Sara Foss


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