CLAYTON — The village on Monday night moved to bar any marijuana dispensaries or consumption lounges from opening within its borders.
Since the state Legislature passed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act on March 31, officials in towns, cities and villages across the state have debated whether to opt out of the section of the law allowing dispensaries and smoking lounges.
In Clayton, village and town officials have the same reasons for opting out — the laws and regulations are still too unclear.
At Monday’s village meeting, village Police Chief Kevin Patenaude spoke in favor of the decision to opt out of the dispensaries. The village can revoke the law to ban the dispensaries at any time in the future but only has until Dec. 31 to pass the law if they wish to keep dispensaries away.
Chief Patenaude said the village can, if so desired, end the prohibition once the as-yet-unestablished Office of Cannabis Management develops the finer points of marijuana policy in New York.
Mayor Norma J. Zimmer said she asked Chief Patenaude to speak at Monday’s meeting as his department will be the one to enforce any marijuana laws in the village.
“I think it’s good to get a professional opinion when you have these kinds of issues,” she said. “What the board decided is that we wanted to wait, because these rules change every day.”
According to the MRTA, any town, village or city with marijuana dispensaries or sales spaces in its borders will get 3% of a 13% sales tax on the products. The state gets 9% and the county gets 1%.
Mayor Zimmer said she doesn’t think a dispensary in Clayton would generate a significant amount of money for the village at only 3%, although she said she hasn’t done the research to know how much may be generated. She also said there’s a fear that any income would be taken away by enforcing the marijuana laws.
“Do you spend the money you generate on it to police it?” she asked.
The MRTA allows individuals to smoke marijuana in public spaces wherever cigarette smoking is permitted, regardless of any local laws. It almost entirely removes the legal consequences for possessing marijuana, although an individual in possession of more than three ounces of cannabis or more than 24 ounces of cannabis oil is still at risk of receiving a ticket.
Mayor Zimmer said the village Board of Trustees believes the safest bet to ensure the village can retain control of its atmosphere is to opt out until more questions about specific marijuana policy, like what dispensaries can look like and where they can be located, are answered by the Office of Cannabis Management.
“Our safest bet was to opt out, and see where it goes, but we can change our mind down the road,” she said. “I just feel comfortable with where we are.”
Mayor Zimmer said there has been almost no outspoken support for bringing a dispensary to Clayton, and those who spoke at Monday’s meeting were in favor of passing the law.
Village voters have the opportunity to circulate a petition to force a referendum vote on the measure, which will allow all village residents to vote in a binding referendum whether to allow or ban dispensaries and consumption sites.
Mayor Zimmer said there’s been no concerted effort that she’s aware of to draft a petition. The petition must be filed within 45 days of the law’s passage, or by Oct. 7 in the case of the village of Clayton.
According to the MRTA, only those who were registered to vote in the municipality during the last general election will have their signatures counted, and 10% of the number of people who voted for governor during the last gubernatorial election must sign for the petition to be considered valid.
In the town of Clayton, surrounding the village, a similar ban on dispensaries has been enacted. At the July 14 meeting, the board passed a law banning the opening of marijuana dispensaries and consumption sites in its jurisdiction.
Lance Peterson, town supervisor for Clayton, said the town board has the same view as the village board, that opting out now is the safe option while the finer points of marijuana policy are created.
“We didn’t need to be the frontrunners on this. We decided to opt out, but we can opt in at any time,” he said.
Mr. Peterson said there were a few people who came forward to oppose the ban, but when they learned it could be rescinded they were less inclined to oppose it.
“We had no opposition whatsoever,” he said.
Any petition to force a referendum on the measure for the town had to be completed and turned into the town clerk by Saturday.
Not every town is interested in giving up the potential revenue stream marijuana dispensaries could provide. Right next to the town of Clayton, the town of Orleans has not moved to ban dispensaries, and Orleans town supervisor Kevin R. Rarick said he doesn’t thing the town will move to do so.
He said he and the other board members aren’t convinced dispensaries would pose any kind of problem if they did come to town.
“It seems like everyone is scared of what’s going to happen, like it’s going to be forced down our throats,” he said. “But we already have zoning laws in place that can regulate where a dispensary goes and what it looks like. It’s not like it’s going to go up next to a school.”
Mr. Rarick said the Orleans town board hasn’t heard any concerns from residents that opening a dispensary locally would pose any problems, and has seen dispensaries in other states that have already legalized and set up commercial frameworks.
“Out in Michigan, the dispensaries, the one I saw looked like a boutique outside. It wasn’t elaborate, it was very clean,” he said.
He said he believes bars are similar in terms of potential problems generated and said most towns are happy to host bars in their borders without issue.
He said it’s almost assured that people all across the north country are smoking marijuana, and banning dispensaries won’t change that as well, so if the bans are meant to keep marijuana out of the community, he doesn’t think that will work.
He said the 3% sales tax doesn’t look too bad from his perspective, and with Orleans’ comparatively low property tax rates, it’s likely a dispensary will come to the town once they’re allowed to open.
“We’ve had people congratulate us for keeping ourselves open to this,” he said. “It’s been a popular thing.”