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Reefer Madness

For the third time in six months, the Town of Bedford Board has once again pivoted in its stance on recreational marijuana here in Bedford. As a reminder, they voted to opt-out in December 2021, then spent the last few weeks preparing to opt-in (*preparing may insinuate that there was research being gathered and back-and-forth discussion going on – but I was hard-pressed to find any evidence of that in the meetings I attended), and ultimately decided to remain opted out this past Tuesday night. The latter of which was no doubt heavily influenced by the will of the people of Bedford, and for that – I thank you!

Supervisor Calves opened the June 7th meeting backtracking on what she has been publicly stating for weeks (including in print via the May 6th newsletter) – confirming that there was indeed no opportunity for permissive referendum on this matter (something we have been sounding the alarm on for the last six weeks after copious calls into the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM)). Perhaps I hold our elected officials to a higher bar, but I have real concerns when disinformation is disseminated via official Town letterhead. *I don’t think it was purposeful, but I would expect an issue like this to be fact-checked every which way before being presented as truth to the general public.

She also thanked the residents of the Town for all their feedback (emails and public comment sessions alike) – which had been plentiful in the days and weeks leading up to this decision. Supervisor Calves also cited another one of the hot button issues we have been pushing her on – zoning - and vowed that the Town Board would spend more time considering it when this issue undoubtedly comes up again. If you’ve received any of my emails, you know that zoning was of very little consideration during this deliberation (outside of state-mandated minimums) which outraged many residents who had concerns that 95% of all commercial properties in the Town could and would be candidates for shops like these without any Bedford-specific considerations. And finally, Supervisor Calves cited an overwhelming concern from residents about the impact this decision would have on children – which should make all families here in Bedford happy to hear from our elected officials.

Despite Supervisor Calves stating that no vote would occur this evening and that the town was remaining on the sidelines, public comment was allowed to follow and we heard once again from residents on both sides of the table. The common theme of opt-in proponents was best described by a resident who likened the fear exhibited by naysayers as that of ‘Reefer Madness’ propaganda from the 1930’s, and we heard several people talk about the cleanliness and security of establishments like these in other parts of the country. In addition to the issues I detailed above, those against opt-in were confused about earlier comments made by the Town’s Comptroller about how much tax revenue we could expect this to bring vs the amount of volume these businesses would need to command (the former was at the low-end of $255K annually with the latter being more than $8.5MM in sales, which would require 110K customers and undoubtedly a large amount of out-of-town visitors via car, train and/or bus).

The meeting ended with all signs indicating that this issue would indeed come up in the future, but Board Member Bobbi Bittker raised an astute concern about continuing to dedicate time to this issue over and over again when there are much more pertinent and timely issues at hand (personally, I am disgusted by the conditions of roads and sidewalks all over our Town particularly in the hamlet of Bedford Hills which coincidentally has had empty storefronts for years). I couldn’t agree more and hope that her words are not lost with this board in the coming months.

While I have been critical as of recent, I will conclude by applauding this Town Board for listening to their constituents and ultimately backtracking on the decision to opt-in (which seemed like a foregone conclusion just days and even hours before the June 7th meeting). And most importantly, I want to commend my fellow friends and neighbors on their willingness to step up and make their voices heard. I hope the impacts of a few encourage others to feel empowered going forward, because we can and will have an impact on decisions that affect each and every one of us here in the Town of Bedford.

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