Dobbs Ferry holds special election; residents vote to opt out of dispensaries


Ellen Cowhey

Posters were put up all around Dobbs Ferry, warning voters to reject dispensaries.

Xavier Rolston, Web Editor

The Village of Dobbs Ferry announced a reversal of their decision made just over a year prior: the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to allow dispensaries in the village. The decision sparked an immediate countermovement from residents, who filed a petition with the village stating their dissent. Since the decision made by the Board was considered a ‘permissive referendum,’ Dobbs Ferry voters were granted the final say in the matter.

Voters showed up on March 21st to express their contention with the village’s decision, resulting in a landslide vote barring cannabis dispensaries from operating in Dobbs Ferry. Unofficial data from the county Board of Elections states that 67 percent of voters were against the permissive referendum, and only 33 percent in support.

Mayor Vincent Rossillo voiced his feelings on the vote and explained its significance to the Village of Dobbs Ferry. He said in a statement to local news and information platform Patch, “This referendum was a true expression of democracy, and it was gratifying to see that over 2,000 voters participated in the process.”

Brooke Nalle, a Dobbs Ferry resident, and Masters Parent Association President, voted in the village-wide election. She expressed her surprise at the number of people who turned out to vote.

“I think what’s pretty interesting is that it was an election that huge amount of turnout. You need to understand, in these little village elections, nobody goes,” Nalle said. “I think the people who voted against it really rallied and got together again, not always with messaging that I certainly believe in, but I think it’s a pretty interesting phenomenon.”

Nalle further explained that this election helped shine a light on the stark division within the Dobbs Ferry community. She said, “This election really divided our town. And the same thing happened with the school board last spring. This issue [is] not just about dispensaries. It’s also about community activism, for better or for worse.”

Peter Newcomb, Head of Upper School at Masters, explained that the vote likely wouldn’t impact the Masters community. He said, “I don’t necessarily think it impacts the Masters community, because marijuana is legal for 21 year olds,” Newcomb explained. “As a school, it doesn’t change our policies or our expectations. I don’t think having one or not will greatly impact students’ access to substances.”

This issue [is] not just about dispensaries. It’s also about community activism, for better or for worse.

— Brooke Nalle, Dobbs Ferry voter

Nalle sided against the proposition. “Unlike most of my friends, I voted against the opening of a dispensary, with a population of Dobbs Ferry that I don’t normally align with politically,” she said.

Nalle’s reasoning represented two of several concerns Dobbs Ferry voters had with adopting dispensaries. Her primary reason for voting ‘no’ was Dobbs Ferry’s infrastructure, and the village’s ability to handle a new dispensary.

“I find that Dobbs Ferry tends to not always exercise the best judgment when they develop or try new things,” she said.  “They tend to rush into saying yes to development, and saying yes to businesses in town that might not be the direction that the town is ready to handle in terms of traffic, access, and basically the public works needed to support it.”

Nalle continued that while she doesn’t believe Dobbs Ferry is yet ready to handle dispensaries, she doesn’t view them as a major negative. “I’m not against dispensaries in general, but I think that our town isn’t ready to accommodate one in a safe and beneficial way,” she explained.

I think it’s incumbent upon us as a school to really talk about drugs and alcohol, and what protective factors are.

— Peter Newcomb, Head of Upper School

“I think that as soon as parking can be addressed and handled, and if they can get their acts together and really affect change and lay the foundation for these positive changes, then absolutely. Just like we have Rochambeau wines, it’s absolutely fine to have a dispensary. It’s legal in New York, and there should be a safe way for people of age to go get marijuana,” Nalle concluded.

One concern expressed by voters in favor of the bill was the subsequent stigmatization surrounding marijuana, and that this decision might push students and youth in the area away from learning about safety regulations with marijuana. Newcomb responded that he thinks marijuana and alcohol education is important for Masters to continue, especially as it continues to become more prevalent.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us as a school to really talk about drugs and alcohol, and what protective factors are. There are significant impacts on adolescent development with any kind of substance use, and deciding that marijuana is a ‘safer’ drug is challenged by a lot of research,” he said. “Over the past four or five years, our health classes have had a more intentional approach to drug and alcohol education, which is really important because students come up against these situations in the real world.”

Newcomb also recognized the counterargument that changing attitudes surrounding marijuana could pose some harm to teens.

“I think attitudes towards marijuana have shifted, and despite it being legal only for people 21 and above, there is a tendency for those under 21 to [have] more of a permissive approach to it,” Newcomb said. “There are some significant issues associated with substance use of any kind with a developing adolescent brain, and marijuana is certainly one of those.” 

Other voters expressed concerns about marijuana becoming more prevalent in the village of Dobbs Ferry, and the risk exposure could pose to village youth in particular. Dobbs Ferry Superintendent Ken Slentz was among officials quoted on various yard signs and posters, saying, “We should pause and give this fur­ther study. A dis­pen­sary in a vil­lage like ours is new.”

Nalle explained her thoughts on the canvassing leading up to the election. She said, “The fear-mongering that went around this election was unbelievable. People were really pushing this huge message of ‘gateway drug’ and ‘weed will get your kids addicted to heroin ASAP.’ Really ridiculous, fraudulent claims that are based on fear.”

Newcomb shared his thoughts on the mindset of voters. “I think there are a variety of beliefs about marijuana, but it seems as if the folks in Dobbs Ferry feel pretty strongly as to not having these dispensaries,” he said. “I don’t think there’s just one singular reason for either side to vote.”

49.6% of New York municipalities ultimately voted to opt out of allowing marijuana dispensaries, and Dobbs Ferry has now permanently joined that list.