Legalized marijuana: local residents share their opinions
Several local municipalities will see dispensaries for the sale of marijuana for recreational uses, most likely coming in 2023.
Seth Harrison, The Journal News/lohud
Amid the expected revelry of bringing in the new year, New Yorkers will also have a clearer picture of where they might be able to buy and consume legal marijuana.
Dec. 31 marks the deadline of when cities, villages, and towns can opt-out of allowing licenses for either marijuana consumption lounges or retail dispensaries within their jurisdictions, according to New York’s cannabis law. Counties don’t have that option
And so far, about 400 municipalities have done so.
The localities were given the authority to adopt a law to withhold either or both of those licenses as part of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the state law approved in March that legalized the sale of recreational marijuana.
The communities are not allowed to opt-out of marijuana as a whole, as investors can still obtain other types of licenses, such as those for cultivation or delivery. But it would certainly mean that those localities would lose out on some tax revenues associated with the new legal market.
Still, weeks before the deadline, hundreds of localities across the state have chosen to completely opt-out of the two licenses in their communities, with some leaders voicing concerns about the lack of regulations passed down by the state’s Cannabis Control Board. Some communities have opted out of just one of the licenses.
The board had its first meeting in October. However, political infighting between former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers over appointments to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had slowed placements to the cannabis board.
And because of that delay, some communities are taking a wait-and-see approach and considering reversing course as more regulations come out. Municipalities that opt-in can’t change their decision after Dec. 31.
Meanwhile, other leaders have used the option as a means of expressing their discontent with areas of the law they do not like, such as public consumption provisions.
Christopher Anderson, director of research and programming at the Association of Towns of the State of New York, said, “Some of the lessons to be learned from the practical application of retail cannabis sales are slow to disseminate,” leading some municipalities to move with “caution.”
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Hundreds of communities opt-out, but more take no stance
As of early December, around 400 localities across the state have chosen to completely opt-out in their communities, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York.
The state has more than 1,500 municipalities. And around 900 localities have not made a “Yes” or “No” stance, meaning they will be opting in if they do not take further action by Dec. 31.
In New Jersey, where towns can opt in or out of six different types of marijuana licenses, about 70% of towns chose to completely opt out of the marijuana industry altogether.
Heather Trela, director of operations and a fellow at the Rockefeller Institute, said New York’s opt-out rate may fluctuate. But even if many more municipalities opt out of the two licenses, she said, buyers could still get marijuana.
“So there is a possibility that even if there is a ‘desert’ or a large area does not have a dispensary available to them, (people) could have it delivered from another community,” she added.
Most of the communities that have opted out of the two licenses are villages and towns, though several cities made the move, including Rye in Westchester County, Long Beach in Nassau County, and Middletown in Orange County.
The county with the highest opt-out rate was Putnam in the Hudson Valley, where about 78% of eligible communities chose to opt-out of dispensaries and 88% did so for consumption sites, according to data from the Institute.
The next highest rates of opting out of both licenses were in Lewis County in northern New York and Chautauqua County in western New York. Both of them had opt-out rates in the 60% range, data showed.
Other counties with high opt-out rates were Cortland, Nassau, and Orange.
More on marijuana in New York: Expungements, licenses, and local opt-outs: Here’s what’s next for NY’s marijuana rollout
‘Cart before the horse’
Middletown Mayor Joseph DeStefano said opting out is the best decision for his Orange County community, given that officials there have not seen many plans for the rollout of marijuana.
“The opt-out was the responsible thing to do, not knowing what laws are in place and how they will be interpreted by the controlling board,” DeStefano said.
In the meantime, he’s trying to push changes in the state cannabis law, particularly on dealing with public consumption.
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act allows a person to have up to three ounces of cannabis on their person. However, the law does ban consumption in several places, such as on school grounds.
Although all marijuana regulations have not been set, some marijuana advocates say that the control board will be looking at the potential impact a license could have for a community.
“When the cannabis control board is examining your application, they’re going to look at factors like noise control,” Rachel Partington, a lawyer at Knauf Shaw LLP, previously said. “Is this going to increase noise in your community? They’re looking at safety concerns. They’re looking at whether the applicant has any past type of violation.”
In Corning, just outside of Elmira and near the Pennsylvania border, officials decided to forgo consumption lounges but allow marijuana dispensaries, The Leader reported.
Still, Corning City Councilman Mark ReSue likened allowing dispensaries before the regulations are fixed as putting the “cart before the horse.”
The decision to allow retail dispensaries in Corning came down to public health because it could disincentive cannabis users from using the prohibited marijuana market, Mayor Bill Boland told The Leader.
Even with his preference for dispensaries, Boland said, the consumption lounges might be “a step too far” for his community at this time.
“I accept the fact that in the future the city can opt-in as we gain more information about (on-site-consumption lounge) regulations and also that our community adapts itself to this reality of cannabis being legal,” he said.
More: New York’s marijuana law: What’s happening now, and how it might affect bars
Jeff Smith, staff writer at The Leader of Corning, contributed to this report.
Tiffany Cusaac-Smith covers race and justice for the USA TODAY Network of New York. Click here for her latest stories. Follow her on Twitter @T_Cusaac.