Parents and kids flood Community Board 11 meeting in Little Neck during vote on proposed cannabis sites

The Community Board 11 office in Little Neck filled up with families on the night of a cannabis committee meeting.
Photo courtesy of Pearl Cheng

Parents flooded the Queens Community Board 11 office in Little Neck last week during a Cannabis Committee meeting where four proposed dispensary sites were up for approval. 

Over a dozen children in attendance also held up signs that read “not the spot for pot” and “doobie a neighbor and vote no” outside the room where the committee heard proposals from the entrepreneurs hoping to open a legal dispensary in the area. Parents tuned into the meeting on their phone to hear the vote, and cheered when three of the sites were voted against. Only one was approved by the board. 

The significant turnout, one of the largest for a committee meeting, was the result of parents mobilizing in opposition to one specific site that they deemed too close to a school and recreational sites. The board sided with the parents and voted against Ryder 26 Corp. which proposed a site at 245-02 Horace Harding Expy. 

Applicants sat down with members of the board to convince them to recommend their site to the Office of Cannabis Management. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Legally, dispensaries cannot be on the same road and within 500 feet of school grounds. For houses of worship, the limit is 200 feet. One of the proposed sites, which would be 805 feet away from the entrance to P.S 221Q, brought out dozens of vocal opponents in person and a hundred Zoom attendees. 

While the proposed dispensary would in compliance in terms of distance, the parents felt that since the site is on the same block as the elementary school it was too close for comfort.

A week prior to the meeting, the PTA Executive Board of P.S. 221Q wrote a letter to the CB 11 board to express is disapproval of the proposed dispensary. The letter noted that the site is also in proximity to several community facilities frequented by children, including a dance studio and swim school.

The letter also noted that the site could pose public safety concerns, such as susceptibility to robberies, as well as traffic concerns for pedestrians at the dangerous intersection. 

“Businesses such as Saf-T Swim, Spotlight Dance Studio and Champion Martial Arts all cater to children in the area. Many of our parents at P.S. 221 use their services,” said the letter signed by the PTA board. “If a marijuana dispensary were to open in close proximity to these existing businesses, parents might have second thoughts about using their services.”

Many children in attendance held up signs of disapproval against the proposed legal dispensaries. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Those in favor of the dispensaries didn’t shy away from comparing them to liquor stores. They questioned the logic of those in opposition, by making the argument that walking by liquor stores could encourage drinking – yet no one is rallying to keep bars and liquor stores from opening in their neighborhoods. 

They also argued that illegal smoke shops, which are rampant across the city are much more likely to sell to underage buyers. Legal dispensaries, monitored by the state, have a security guard who checks customers’ identification. They also record all transactions and flag large purchases that could indicate someone is purchasing cannabis with the intent to resell it to others.

“If there was a choice of you having an illegal smoke shop or a dispensary? I promise you, you should go for a dispensary,” one applicant told a concerned parent at the meeting. “Otherwise these guys are the ones selling to children. I can’t even sell candy at my store.”

In the past, heads of community boards across the borough have expressed frustration at their new responsibility of approving cannabis sites in their respective districts. The Public Safety and Licensing Committee also hears proposals for liquor licenses, and recommendations are passed along to the NYS Liquor Authority. But with the recent legalization of marijuana in the state, they are now tasked with considering dispensaries. 

On applicant, who was proposing a site at 233-20 Northern Blvd., said he was surprised by the pushback against the dispensaries, although agreed with the parents who opposed the site that would be in close proximity to the school and community centers.

“I think I’m a little in shock about how many people are so anti-cannabis. But I do understand that the location that they’re here protesting for is actually near schools and churches. So we’re actually with them on that,” said Jack Toro. “People that are opening up locations should do their due diligence to actually find a spot that is not so residential.”

While community boards make recommendations to the Office of Cannabis Management, ultimately OCM makes the decision as to whether or not they will be approved. 

But the applicants who are fighting to get their proposed businesses off the ground, amid the state rollout of legalized dispensaries are also frustrated with the overall process.

“Shouldn’t they have had these meetings before they decided to issue licenses so they could procure locations, which are suitable. Because they’re wasting people’s time,” said one applicant who was not approved. “People are spending money, paying out landlords to get places to get turned down. Who’s going to refund their money? The state should have a better understanding.”

The one site that was approved – 224-15 Union Tpke. under Bayside Supply – previously applied but was rejected. The applicant returned with an improved business plan and it was the only site to be approved on Wednesday. 

“We convinced them that if this goes sideways, we’ll shut it down,” said Dave Sing, adding that they agreed to close the store for a couple hours on school days around dismissal time.