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Weed war: Proposed Middle Village legal marijuana dispensary fuels outrage, debate at CB 5 meeting

Jun. 15, 2023 By Anthony Medina

The potential arrival of a legal adult-use cannabis dispensary in Middle Village divided board members and the public during an hours-long Community Board 5 meeting at Christ the King High School on Wednesday, June 14. 

Vincent Arcuri Jr., chairperson of Community Board 5.

Vincent Arcuri Jr., chairperson of Community Board 5.Photo by Anthony Medina

During the public hearings portion of the meeting, Osbert Orduña, chief executive officer of The Cannabis Place — the legal cannabis dispensary planning to open at the old Chase Bank location on 74-03 Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village — spoke to board members in an attempt to alleviate any concerns brought by the public. 

The Cannabis Place currently operates as a fully licensed cannabis delivery service for Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk Counties, according to its website.  

Board members grilled Orduña with questions, asking for clarity on why the Metropolitan Avenue location was chosen, how the business plans to prevent potential criminal activity and what will be done to limit the exposure of cannabis products to minors. 

“… Based on our data of clients, which comes down specifically to zip code and address, we know that there is actually a large concentration of our current clients that utilize our delivery service that live both in Middle Village and the surrounding neighborhoods,” Orduña said in response to a question on why the business chose the Metropolitan area, which was met with applause from some in the audience. 

Orduña also verified the placement of an airport-style screening device that will be used inside the facility for safety and to prevent minors from entering. He also said anyone under 21 years old will not have access to the dispensary, regardless of who accompanies them. 

The windows on the exterior of the building will also be designed to prevent passersby to see inside the establishment. Additionally, both unarmed and armed guards will be on-site, Orduña said. 

Despite his best efforts to alleviate public concern over the dispensary, some members of the community board and the public weren’t convinced. 

Charlie Vavruska, a Maspeth resident and staff member of Councilman Robert Holden’s office, gives a passionate plea to the community board to stop the dispensary from moving into the neighborhood.Photo by Anthony Medina

“This community for years has been fighting to keep drug dealers out from preying on our children. “Just because a drug dealer comes here in a fancy suit and hipster glasses, doesn’t make him any less evil,” said Charlie Vavruska, a Maspeth resident and staff member of Councilman Robert Holden’s office. “Look, I’m a parent advocate. I’ve been going to education meetings for years and anytime you hear somebody get up and start sighting studies, you know they’re gonna propose something bad for the kids. And that’s what he’s doing.”

Vavruska went on to say he expects the community board to reject the dispensary. 

Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., also made remarks regarding the dispensary later in the meeting, referencing his decision to vote “no” on the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which legalized adult-use cannabis in 2021. His reasons were aimed at the surge of illegal smoke shops and a lack of preparedness from the city. 

Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., addresses members of the community board on the issues with smoke shops, both legal and illegal, citing his decision to vote no to the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.Photo by Anthony Medina

“We spoke about this bill for over three years. Three years and they probably could have discussed it a little bit more to get right and we weren’t ready. So when the time came for the bill to be in front of me, I voted ‘no,’ only because I didn’t think we were ready. And guess what? In my gut, I knew we weren’t ready,” Addabbo said. “Because we allow the illegal shops to go in and proliferate our communities. The illegal shops are still selling marijuana laced with other drugs and that [are] very harmful to our children and to our people. And we were wrong to do it because we didn’t consider that happening and we could of. We were not ready.”

Addabbo said his office stands ready to address any issues involving smoke shops and other community-related issues. 

In the committee reports portion of the meeting, Patrick Trinchese, as chair of the Liquor and Cannabis Committee, shared the board’s and his personal sentiment about the dispensary, finding a middle ground amidst the community conflict. 

“This is here. The time to argue whether it should be illegal or shouldn’t be illegal, all that is over. It is legal. It is here and as a community, we have to deal with it. To the best of my knowledge and our knowledge and the research, there is nothing that we can do about it, whether you’re for it or not.” Trinchese said. “So with that being said, you would rather have an established business in the neighborhood with security measures doing business the right way than what we currently have, which is bodegas and everybody else just selling things that you don’t know what they are.”

Walter Sanchez regains the title of 1st vice chair of community board 5.Photo by Anthony Medina

Later in the meeting, an election was held for executive committee members. Vincent Arcuri Jr., remains chairman, while Walter Sanchez was appointed as 1st vice chair once again and Dmytro Fedkowskyj will retain his role as second vice chairperson. Eric Butkiewicz, chairperson of the Transportation Services Committee, was appointed to treasurer and Peggy O’Kane remains as secretary. 

Fred Haller, Jasmine Valle, Walter Clayton and Maryann Lattanzio were elected as members at large.

The remaining agenda items that were not directly impacted by this meeting are expected to be discussed at the next community board meeting. 

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