TUPPER LAKE — While the town of Tupper Lake will opt in to allowing cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption licenses for businesses in the town, the Tupper Lake village board is planning to opt out of allowing either within the village — at least at first.
When adult recreational marijuana use was legalized in New York earlier this year, the state’s cannabis law gave municipalities the opportunity to opt out of allowing dispensaries and/or consumption sites within their limits. Towns, villages and cities have until Dec. 31 to opt out of one or the other, otherwise, they will automatically be opted in to both.
The town council moved to opt in at a board meeting last week.
In the village’s November meeting, the board passed a resolution signalling it would like to opt out, but later found out to opt out it must pass a local law and hold public hearings first.
Those public hearings will be scheduled at the village’s next meeting, Nov. 17 at 6 p.m.
At the village’s meeting on Nov. 3, police Chief Eric Proulx brought the issue of the cannabis law up. He said he’s not for or against allowing cannabis sales in the village, but urged caution because the rules of how businesses with on-site consumption licenses will operate have not yet been written.
The state started the Office of Cannabis Management to govern and implement the new law, but it has not yet decided on the rules and regulations for how cannabis business licenses will be rolled out.
Village Mayor Paul Maroun said they likely won’t be released until well into next year.
When the state legalized recreational, adult-use cannabis earlier this year and gave local governments the option of opting out of allowing dispensaries and issuing on-site consumption licenses, there was a caveat attached. Governments that opt out can opt in later at any time, but if they opt in, they can’t opt back out.
“My initial reaction is to say, just for now, ‘no,’ … because you can never say no again,” Maroun said. “I don’t want to say ‘no’ forever. I just want to know what the state’s going to mandate on us.”
Maroun said new state regulations could translate to extra expenses for the village, and the village might not want to take on. As an example, he said the rules could require police officers to be present at dispensaries when they are open. The village doesn’t have enough officers to do that, he said.
“Marijuana is going to be legal. That’s the law,” Maroun said. “I don’t support that, but that’s the law, so I think that we should be able to take advantage of the tax revenues from that.”
A village that opts out of allowing cannabis dispensaries would not be able to collect tax revenue generated by the sale of cannabis. Sales will be taxed at 13% in New York. Of that, 9% would go to the state, 3% to the local government where the sale took place and 1% to the county where that local government is located.
Trustee Jason McClain said it would be “irresponsible” to not know the rules and opt in.
Trustee Leon Leblanc made a motion to opt out, which the board passed unanimously, but this was not an official action.
Trustee Ron LaScala was out of town during this meeting, but afterward said the board acted too fast by passing the referendum and said they have to do things “the right way.”
Municipalities opt out by passing a local law.
That local law, as with all local laws, is subject to a permissive referendum, meaning town residents have 45 days from the adoption of the law to gather enough signatures — 10% of the village’s voters who cast ballots for governor in the last gubernatorial election — to force a public vote.
Tupper Lakers cast 1,804 ballots in the 2018 gubernatorial election, so 180 signatures would be needed to force a referendum.
If no petition is filed within 45 days, it automatically becomes law. A board member can also propose a resolution to bring the matter to a public vote.
The board will have to do this fast. The deadline to opt out is Dec. 31.
Town Supervisor Patti Littlefield said she is sure the state criteria for dispensaries and businesses with on-site consumption licenses will be pretty strict. She said if Harrietstown is opting in — which Harrietstown Supervisor Mike Kilroy said is likely — she wouldn’t want Tupper Lake to miss out on the tax revenue.
Councilman John Quinn said he has no interest in opting out.
“You’re either going to buy it illegally or legally, why not set it up where they can buy it legally?” he said.
He said he’s traveled to other states where it is legalized — California and Washington — and has been inside dispensaries there.
“It’s not lawlessness there,” Quinn said. “It’s not a bunch of potheads all around.”
He said they are just businesses and he saw people using cannabis responsibly.
Councilwoman Mary Fontana concurred with Quinn, Councilman Mike Dechene said he agreed and Councilwoman Tracy Luton said she might open a dispensary, with a laugh.
Quinn made a motion that the town take no action and opt in. The vote was unanimous.