A Dec. 31 deadline for municipalities in New York state to opt out of allowing cannabis dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses looms, including all of those in Chautauqua County.
Several local officials have a variety of questions and concerns when it comes to marijuana regulations, monetization and zoning. To help those municipalities, State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, assembled a roundtable discussion Tuesday in Dunkirk for local officials, authorities and business leaders to answer as many of those questions as possible, while organizing questions being posed.
Though the specifics of how marijuana will be regulated aren’t fully yet clear, the decision to move forward with legislation to opt out of allowing dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses has been taken by many local municipalities.
Any town or village wishing to opt out has to do so by the end-of-the-year deadline, but those who do opt out can opt back in at any time afterward.
If a municipality does opt in, they can never again opt out. While this system of doing things may seem arbitrary, Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, shed some light on just why New York state is doing things that way.
“You always have the option of opting out now, then opting in when those questions are answered,” Goodell said. “The reason for that disparity is because in theory if you don’t opt out, companies can make investments in the community under the assumption they can move forward, then to make their operation illegal, you have due process. It’s almost like eminent domain. That’s why they structured it like that.”
A consideration that some municipalities like Hanover and Silver Creek have taken into account is the nearby presence of the Seneca Nation of Indians. Borrello said based on people he’s talked to, the Seneca Nation will be involved with the sale of marijuana.
“There’s no doubt the Seneca Nation is going to be in the marijuana business,” Borrello said. “You see how far people will drive to save $5 on a tank of gas, how far are they going to drive to save $50 on a bag of weed? Is that going to have an impact on our ability to generate revenue?”
Borrello said all the puzzle pieces are not together as a state, as many municipalities still have questions as to how regulations will go. But regardless of whether municipalities wish to opt out of dispensaries or smoking dens, they will not have the option to opt out of production. Rather, municipalities will control these things through zoning. The stipulation attached to that is that they cannot be zoned out entirely.
“You cannot zone them out, that is illegal,” said Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist. “That’s an issue we’re seeing in Long Island right now. Many communities are trying to zone out those operations, so you have to be cognizant of that.”
Borrello said while there isn’t a limit on the number of dispensaries that will be allowed in municipalities, there may be a limit as to the number of licenses. He estimates that the state will restrict the number to keep the revenue up, as more competition equals less profit.
Another focus of the meeting is where exactly people will be able to smoke. Marijuana establishments cannot be within 500 feet of a school, but a concern of Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas was on the smoking in the parks. The way things are currently outlined, smoking marijuana would be allowed in any place where cigarettes can be smoked, but Rosas said the city of Dunkirk is working on restricting those regulations all together to avoid smoking in public parks.
“The general consensus of our council is that we don’t want to opt out,” he said. “But we want to regulate it. We don’t want it smoked in public parks and things like that. There’s a lot of restrictions that this council wants to put into place.”
Borrello said he’s hoping the state could potentially move back the deadline to allow more of these unanswered questions to be answered.
“I think it’s unfair they have to opt out by the end of the year because the state has failed to enact parts of the law they said they would,” Borrello said. “And therefore, to keep that Dec. 31 strict guideline for an opt out, to me, seems completely unfair. What are you opting in or out of? Nobody really knows. I think the state should extend that deadline and I’m hoping our new governor will do so.”
While the round table discussion ended with unresolved questions being left on the board, Borrello believes that discussions like this will benefit those municipalities who still do have questions about the logistics of marijuana dispensaries and smoking dens.
“I think it was very beneficial,” Borrello said. “It certainly was for me. This is about me being able to go back and answer those questions that they have. We’re trying to find out where the common questions are to go back and advocate, get answers, then if there aren’t answers, to ensure we’re addressing those as a state government.”