Town, Villages Hash Out Marijuana Law

Philipstown board suggests local coordination

Cold Spring officials said this week they want to put the question of whether legal marijuana can be sold in the village before voters in the fall, while the Town of Philipstown earlier said it wanted to consult with Cold Spring and Nelsonville before making a decision.

Enacted on March 31 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the law allows adults age 21 and older to possess up to 3 ounces; the opening of licensed retail shops where customers can buy and consume marijuana; and a sales tax that will benefit municipalities, counties, schools, community grants and a drug treatment and public education fund.

It also allows cities, towns and villages such as Beacon, Philipstown, Cold Spring and Nelsonville to “opt out” by passing a law that bans retailers from selling pot or allowing on-site consumption, but they must do so by Dec. 31. After that, municipalities can only pass laws lifting earlier bans or regulating the “time, place and manner of the operation” of licensed retailers.

At a meeting on June 3, members of the Philipstown Town Board proposed meeting with their counterparts in Cold Spring and Nelsonville to discuss if or how they will approach retail sales.

“It’s a good idea to hash out the details” with the villages before deciding how to proceed, Supervisor Richard Shea said during the socially distanced meeting at the newly renovated Town Hall. He admitted to mixed feelings about the pot trade, but “if it’s not happening here, it’s happening someplace else.” 

Later, at the Cold Spring meeting, Mayor Dave Merandy said he didn’t agree with coordinating with Philipstown and Nelsonville.

“Each municipality needs to address this on their own,” Merandy said, with agreement from Trustees Fran Murphy and Marie Early. “A referendum is the best way to see what people would like.”

When Merandy polled the board, Trustee Tweeps Woods said she favored “a conversation with the community” but had not yet decided whether she supported local retail sales, or whether it should go to a referendum. 

Kathleen Foley supported “a listening session or two” and said that she is “inclined to let the public decide.” 

Murphy said a referendum gives all voters “a chance to say what they want to say” and downplayed the need for listening sessions. 

“The village should permit sales” but not “on-site smoking dens,” said Early. “I do think a referendum would provide the broadest feedback we could get.” She did not support holding listening sessions.

After its discussion, the board directed Clerk Jeff Vidakovich to consult with village attorney John Furst in drafting a resolution to place a referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot. Because the deadline is Dec. 31, the board also could forgo a referendum and allow the newly elected trustees and mayor to decide after the election. Merandy, Murphy and Early will not be on the ballot.

The mayor stressed the need for an “information blitz” to educate village residents about the law before any vote. “People should understand it’s not a free-for-all; it’s not like you walk into a gas station and buy marijuana.” 

Under the law, Putnam County will collect and share a 4 percent sales tax on marijuana with Cold Spring, Nelsonville and Philipstown. The municipality where the shop is located will receive 75 percent and the county 25 percent. If a retailer is in a village (such as Cold Spring or Nelsonville) that is within a town that also opts in (such as Philipstown), the municipalities will divide the 75 percent.

“I’m concerned that there’s clear accountability and reporting on this, because it’s the one local tax that the state will require Putnam to share with us,” Foley said. “I want to make sure we’re being paid what we’re supposed to be paid” if marijuana sales are approved.

“I agree,” Merandy said. 

Foley cited what she said was a lack of transparency by the county in the past in reporting sales tax data from the village. Putnam is one of a few counties in the state that doesn’t share sales tax revenue with its municipalities.

The Nelsonville board discussed the new state law in April after Trustee Chris Winward attended a meeting at which the New York Conference of Mayors explained the options for municipalities. She suggested that Nelsonville could pass a local law opting out near the end of the year that would allow residents to petition, through what is known as a permissive referendum, to put it on the ballot in March 2022 for an up-or-down vote.

“If we do opt out, we have the option of opting back in,” she explained. “But if we don’t opt out, we can never opt out.” Opting out through a local law that could be then placed on the ballot would be “the safe way to do it.”

Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong contributed reporting.

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