Middletown refuses to allow marijuana shops and consumption sites

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MIDDLETOWN – City aldermen voted unanimously on Tuesday night to ban marijuana shops and consumption sites, making Middletown one of the first communities in Orange County to adopt an option given to all municipalities under state law that legalized recreational marijuana this year.

Mayor Joseph DeStefano presented the proposal to the Joint Council last month, saying he was more concerned about the cannabis lounges in the city center than the state-approved dispensaries that might open, once the state will have drafted its regulations. The city held the required public hearing on the proposed ban on June 15.

Aldermen who spoke before voting stressed that they may lift the ban later after seeing how regulations and licensing play out. They argued that this was the most prudent approach to take, as municipalities can register at any time but cannot withdraw after December 31.

“We can wait a few months, let the dust settle,” Alderman Paul Johnson said.

The city of Middletown voted to ban shops and sites for the consumption of marijuana, making it one of the first communities in Orange County to adopt an option given to all municipalities under the law of the State that legalized the pot this year.  Municipalities can register at any time, but cannot withdraw after December 31.

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He doubted the hold would cost the city business opportunities. But he also questioned one of the economic arguments for legalization in New York and other states: the idea that licensing black and Latino entrepreneurs could help offset years of marijuana arrests that have disproportionately affected their communities.

“I find that condescending,” Johnson said. “I don’t see the logic in that at all.”

Alderman Gerald Kleiner said he initially opposed the ban on marijuana businesses and supported the creation of gathering places where friends could smoke weed or eat products made with it.

But he also supported allowing residents to decide by referendum whether or not to allow such businesses, which passing the ban allows them to do. Opponents of the ban must collect 1,100 petition signatures within 45 days to force a vote on the issue.

“I think I want to let people decide if they’re really motivated,” Kleiner said.

Earlier in the meeting, DeStefano presented the ban as a safe path that can be reversed later, calling it “a winning argument with the most reasonable people.” He also said he would pressure state lawmakers to demand an amendment to the legalization law to restrict public consumption of marijuana, which is now permitted in places where tobacco can be smoked.

Middletown appears to be the second municipality in Orange County to withdraw after the Village of Chester vote on July 12. Two other councils – the village of Woodbury and the town of Goshen – have proposed and rejected bans on marijuana businesses. Others have taken up similar proposals but have not yet voted. Crawford City Council held two-night hearings and scheduled a third and likely vote next week.

The bans apply only to dispensaries and consumption sites within a municipality and not to possession and consumption of marijuana, which is now legal statewide and not subject to local decisions. By law, people over the age of 21 can have up to three ounces in a jar or 24 grams of concentrated cannabis such as vaping oil or edibles.

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