BETHLEHEM — A public hearing about the town’s proposed six-month moratorium on vape and medical marijuana sales and store applications is scheduled for Wednesday, June 26 at 6 p.m. at the Bethlehem Town Hall.
This public hearing, to be held during the Town Board meeting, seeks to elicit residents’ input as the town wants to take advantage of the proposed six-month timeframe to look into zoning regulations that can determine where vape and medical marijuana stores can be located.
According to the National Center on Addiction, vaping is defined as inhaling and exhaling vapor, or aerosol, that is produced by an e-cigarette or any similar device from liquid nicotine. The act of vaping is similar to smoking from a cigarette and although there is a general societal assumption that vaping and e-cigarettes are a so-called healthier option than traditional cigarettes, vaping and e-cigarettes contain fine particles that are linked to cancer, respiratory and heart disease. Vaping devices and e-cigarettes may come in different flavors, including fruity ones, which have also helped to entice younger people to try it.
Back in the June 12 Town Board meeting, Bethlehem Planning Division Director Robert Leslie said that the idea for a moratorium came up as the town has recently been receiving applications for vape and medical marijuana stores to be built across town. While the town only has one vape store called Interstate Vapor on 340 Delaware Ave. in Delmar, which opened in 2015, two more applications for similar stores have proposed one to be located on 243 Delaware Ave. in Elsmere and on 365 Feura Bush Road in Glenmont. The former proposed location is directly in front of the Elsmere Elementary School while the latter location would be 1,800 feet from Glenmont Elementary School. Meanwhile, Interstate Vapor is near St. Thomas School.
Leslie pointed out that the town lacks any official zoning regulations regarding such stores and there is no enforcement authority to prevent stores from being physically located near a school or any other location. This also led to the question of whether it is okay to have vape shops be located physically near schools where young children could be enticed to try vaping and smoking e-cigarettes.
It should be noted that it is illegal for children under 21 to purchase vaping or smoking paraphernalia in Albany County.
This concern was brought up by Town Board member Maureen Cunningham who said that she does not think it is a “coincidence” that the proposed vape stores are to be located near schools and “they know who their customers are.” She said that as she is part of the Bethlehem Youth Court, she has seen principals bring in all the vaping or e-cigarette devices that had been confiscated from middle and high school students, which she viewed as “unbelievable.”
When she asked if the potential moratorium would affect both the existing and proposed two vape shops’ applications, Leslie said that while it would not affect Interstate Vapor, it would halt the two applications’ process for the time being. If the moratorium leads to enforced zoning regulations about where vape shops can be located, it could prevent the applications from moving forward.
Fellow Town Board member Jim Foster initially proposed having two separate moratoriums instead, one on vape shops and the other on medical marijuana shops, as he said that legalization of marijuana at the state level will not happen for at least a year out. He explained that he did not see the need for a townwide six-month moratorium as the legalization of marijuana would not line up time-wise; he would want to deal with a marijuana-centric moratorium once the right time comes.
Cunningham said that she would prefer having a moratorium for both vape and medical marijuana shops, since other states have already legalized marijuana, and New York state may follow suit.
She said, “Why not use this as an opportunity to get ahead of a potential problem? Rather than wait … We don’t know when the legislation may or may not pass in New York state. I would prefer to have [the topic of medical marijuana stores] in [the moratorium] so we can understand the best practices like the proximity to schools and those issues before it happens in New York state.”
Town Board member Dan Coffey agreed with Foster in that marijuana is a different issue from vaping but he also agreed with Cunningham in that a moratorium should include the two issues and that the state seems to be on a path to legalizing marijuana.
He said that the town’s zoning codes do not address anything about vape or medical marijuana shops and “there’s a hole in our code.”
He wants the moratorium to give the town ample time to update its codes and decide where such shops should be best located.
Leslie brought up that there have been municipalities that have already established zoning regulations for that matter, like only allowing specific zoning districts for them to be located in, deciding setback distances from schools and other locations, and also managing the distance between any other similar shop.
Foster pointed out though that if to-be-updated zoning regulations prevent such shops from being easily accessible to locals in Bethlehem, people can technically still go to similar shops elsewhere like in downtown Albany, for instance.
He also said that while he still does not see the need for a moratorium concerning marijuana at this time, he nevertheless believed that it “is certainly valuable to have that conversation” about both types of shops overall and he understood Cunningham’s and Coffey’s perspectives.
Following the discussions, the Town Board unanimously voted to hold the public hearing for Wednesday, June 26 regarding the moratorium that would concern both vape and medical marijuana shops.