In Gates, the decision was unanimous. Town Supervisor Cosmo Giunta said Friday that there were too many unknowns about impact of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), the legislation signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this past March that legalized adult possession and use of marijuana and laid out a framework for legal retail sales.
“You know it's not all about tax revenue,” said Giunta. “It’s about keeping our residents safe. And right now, we don’t think it’s the best thing for our town.”
Under the MRTA, lawmakers gave New York's cities, towns, and villages the ability to opt out of having legal dispensaries and lounges within their borders, but they have to do so before Dec. 31. Any opt-out measure would take effect 45 days after its passage, though during that window any member of the public can submit a petition for vote on the decision.
State officials have said they don't expect marijuana retail businesses to be licensed to operate until 2023.
The MRTA has put the backs of local governments “up against the wall,” forcing them to decide whether to take the default action and opt in with little knowledge of how and where these businesses will be allowed to operate by the newly created New York State Cannabis Control Board, Giunta said.
“When you look at the (control board) it was just created a month or two ago. And they're still figuring things out,” said Giunta. “It's kind of putting the cart before the horse. First come back with everything and then offer it out to the towns.”
Giunta isn’t ruling out allowing marijuana businesses in Gates. If the town does approve these businesses in the future, they should only be in specific zones away from schools and places of worship, Giunta said.
Opting out, according to Giunta, allows the town to maintain flexibility. He said town leaders will also get to see what happens in towns that opt in.
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In Irondequoit, things are playing out differently. The Town Board, in a 4 to 1 vote during its Oct. 27 meeting set a Nov. 9 public hearing on a proposal to opt the town out of dispensaries and lounges.
The measure was introduced by board member Kimie Romeo and the sole vote against scheduling a public hearing on it came from board member Patrina Freeman, who introduced an unsuccessful measure that would have blocked only cannabis bars and lounges.
Freeman argued that the town should use the extra tax revenue it would receive from sales at dispensaries to provide the town police department with funding to help them deal with things such as drivers impaired from marijuana consumption.
Board member Pete Wehner wouldn’t second Freeman’s motion to consider her proposal, but he stated that he supported it.
Generally, however, the board members lamented the position they were in. They argued that the way the state structured the opt-out provision of cannabis legalization impedes their ability to get public input before taking action. The town can only set public hearings on introduced legislation, not on general issues.
“It is kind of working in the reverse of what we’re all used to but it’s just a procedural thing at this point,” Romeo said during a brief interview Friday. “It’s the only opportunity that we have to get it out there and to get the public to respond.”
If a municipality does approve opt-out legislation, residents have 45 days to submit a petition forcing a public vote on the law. The be valid, the petition must be signed by a number of residents equal to the the number of votes cast by residents in the municipality during the last gubernatorial election.
James Brown is a reporter for WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.
Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.