CB6 Doesn't Object To Weed Store Within 500 Ft. Of Catholic School, Sparking Opposition From Principal

Community Board Six discussed a license for Smiley Exotics –a cannabis store that will be located around the corner from a Catholic institution, The Epiphany School on East 28th St. Board members who okayed the application stress that the new store will be delivery-only, heavily securitized, and have no signage. Yet opposition bubbled as other board members speculated about crime or a future transition to a full-time retail operation. These concerns were echoed in a statement by the principal of The Epiphany School, Kate McHugh. McHugh was also bothered by new draft regulations introduced in November making it easier to establish weed stores near schools.

| 08 Jun 2023 | 10:34

Community Board Six didn't object to a new cannabis take-out establishment on the East Side, over strenuous objections from a local Catholic School located just over 400 ft. away.

Smiley Exotics--the cannabis store destined for 201 E. 30th St.--will have no signage indicating it sells weed, blacked-out windows, a security detail, and even a garage to ensure that it doesn’t block the street. This is all according to a May 11th resolution overwhelmingly passed by Community Board 6 (CB6), which debated the “time-sensitive” licensure of the store during a May 10th board meeting.

The store’s April 27th debate about a license before the CB’s Business Affairs and Licensing Committee reportedly assuaged most member’s concerns, such as whether the store would not be both within 500 ft. and within the same block of a place of worship or a school. Under the original cannabis laws enacted in March 2021, such proximity to a school would have been illegal.

A new draft resolution enacted in November 2022 loosened the regulation so that it would only apply if a weed store was situated within 500 feet and was on the same block. Indeed, Smiley Exotics will be within 500 ft. of The Epiphany School's Early Childhood Center on E. 29th St, but will not be on the same block–making it patently, if narrowly, legal as per the new draft regulations issued in November of 2022.

Board member Claire Brennan noted that the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) audited the location to make sure Smiley Exotics met these draft regulations. The full community board then met on May 10th to cement a resolution blessing a license for Smiley Exotics. At that meeting, the principal of The Epiphany School, Kate McHugh, provided a statement through her proxy Jim Hayes (the president of the school). McHugh said that “I will refrain from debate about the licensing of cannabis dispensaries in New York City, the mixed messages these policies send to the youth of our city, and the potential health and safety issues that may arise as a result of the state’s efforts to correct their budget woes.”

With those concerns relayed, McHugh added that she would focus on the proximity of the school to the weed store. She noted her confusion about the draft regulations, believing that the school being within 500 ft. of the store was still enough to qualify for a denied license. “it seems that the regulations regarding location of cannabis dispensaries are evolving and have not yet been clearly delineated,” McHugh added, ostensibly a reference to the ongoing public comment period. “With this in mind, I believe it is prudent to wait until clear and easily understood guidance is published in an official document,” she concluded.

CB6 covers a broad swatch on the East Side of Manhattan. It ranges from 14th to 59th Streets and from the East River to Lexington Avenue, and extends west to Madison Avenue between 34th and 40th Streets.

In an interview with Straus News, McHugh reiterated her concerns about the shift in regulation, saying that she believed the original rules were designed to “keep our children safe and keep our communities safe, and deal with quality of life concerns for the community. They need to clarify what those rules are and how they will apply them, before any dispensaries are licensed.”

As the May 10th meeting of the full board made evident, not all members were quite so placated. Board chair Kyle Atyhade opened the meeting by proclaiming that “we’re not gonna be debating the merits of cannabis. That has been discussed at length by the state legislature. It has been legalized in 2021.”

Naturally, this did not foreclose heated disagreement. Kevin O’Keefe, who noted his intent to abstain, said that “there are too many questions about proximity [to The Epiphany School].” He also cited a lawsuit initiated by the 125th Business Improvement District in Harlem against a cannabis store, with a fear of attracting crime cited as the main rationale for filing. O’Keefe said that “we have a duty here to mitigate risk–legal and otherwise. We’re trying to fly a plane that’s still being built.”

O’KEefe also questioned whether or not Smiley Exotics would make the transition to a full retail operation down the road–ostensibly making it more accessible for walk-in purchases. He seemed to believe that the application indicated future plans for expansion beyond delivery-only services, since the temporary delivery-only lease lasts a mere year before reapplication for a retail license. O’Keefe received strong pushback on this point, with Claire Brennan bluntly admonishing him that “it’s not true.” She noted that the license applicants signaled that any future retail expansion would be in a different location.

Crime quickly became a flashpoint among board members as well, with questions being fielded as to the likelihood of, say, a robbery at Smiley Exotics. A handful of board members simply wanted more clarity, with Martin Barrett asking “Will there be any increase in crime in the area? Would a licensed shop bring more crime?”

Jim Collins, who telegraphed that he would vote no, mentioned armed robberies at head shops that have occurred in recent months (there have been stick-ups at stores in Union Square, East 17th Street several times in the past year and on the lower East Side this year). Jonathan D’Erico took a more equivocal route, quipping that “Starbucks [stores] get robbed. Bodegas get robbed,” before expressing curiosity about whether licensed smoke shops are either more or less likely than any establishment to get targeted.

By the end of the meeting, it appeared that the blessing of Smiley Exotics would be a fait accompli. Board member Brian Van Nieuwenhoven, seemingly peeved by the hold-up, remarked that “I don’t see what the problem is. [Let’s] vote on this tonight, its time-sensitive.”

Nieuwenhoven’s take on the smoke shop appeared to carry the day, but vociferous objection from certain locals, school executives, and a few other committee members will undoubtedly persist. After all, Smiley Exotics has not yet opened, and its perceived status–whether as a commercial boon converting a empty retail space into a thriving new business, or as a magnet for crime centered right across the way from a Catholic school--will only be negotiated further after operations commence.