Two Parishes Play Roles as Ulster County Towns Opt Out of Cannabis Dispensaries


On Dec. 16, the Town Board of Esopus in Ulster County voted to exempt the town from allowing “cannabis-based dispensaries” (retail sales of recreational marijuana) and "consumption sites" (lounges for recreational marijuana) pursuant to New York state law. The board vote was 3-1.

Five days later, on Dec. 21, the Town Board of Wawarsing, also in Ulster County, followed suit. The vote was 5-0 to opt out of "consumption sites" for recreational marijuana, and 3-2 to opt out of “cannabis-based dispensaries.”   

The parish of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary/Sacred Heart in Port Ewen and Esopus and the parish of St. Mary-St. Andrew in Ellenville played key roles in the town boards reaching those decisions. The state deadline to “opt out” was Dec. 31. 

In board hearings before the votes, parish priests, staff and families spoke against having such dispensaries and sites, countering people who spoke in favor. 

Referring to the Dec. 31 deadline for cities, towns and villages to "opt out" of retail sales and/or consumption sites of recreational marijuana, Father Arthur F. Rojas, administrator of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary/Sacred Heart, said in a released statement, “We thank God for blessing our efforts of prayer, evangelization and outreach over the last month to get (Esopus) Local Law 13 enacted just in the nick of time.”

In a Dec. 22 phone interview with Catholic New York, Father Rojas said he was glad to rely on his legal background as a former attorney to help his parish and the Ellenville parish achieve the goal of having the boards vote down cannabis dispensary and consumption sites. He spoke at the Esopus hearings on behalf of his parish and community. And he provided guidance to the Ellenville parish for the Wawarsing hearings. He said Esopus was the first Ulster County municipality to reach the “opt-out” decision, and Wawarsing was the second. 

Father Rojas added, “In a matter of one week, Wawarsing joins my home town of Esopus in becoming the second municipality in Ulster County to opt out of weed shops and pot lounges for recreational marijuana. 

“Kudos to Father Kenneth Riello, pastor of St. Mary-St. Andrew Church and his parishioners for building on what my parishioners at Esopus first achieved last week to keep our towns a family-friendly place to live." 

Father Riello later told CNY that he and his parishioners were joyful when the Wawarsing board reached the “opt-out” vote, and that they were grateful for Father Rojas’ legal mind.

“This is good for our youth; this is good for our families,” Father Riello said.