St. Armand opts out

Town board leaves door open to opting back in later

BLOOMINGDALE — The St. Armand town board on Tuesday chose to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses to open here — at least for now.

The town board’s 4-1 vote on the issue comes two weeks before the state’s Dec. 31 deadline for municipalities to make a decision on dispensaries and on-site consumption licenses.

Councilman Donald Amell cast the lone “no” vote, saying he’d rather do nothing and opt in to allowing dispensaries. He said last month he didn’t want to opt out and opt back in later because he was concerned it could scare away someone who would want to open a dispensary here.

At a hearing last month on the topic, some residents said they felt this path of opting out now and back in later was unnecessary. On Tuesday, other residents against the idea of cannabis being in town at all.

“Nothing good can come from this,” town resident Dale Gonyea said to the board. “It literally stinks.”

When the state legalized recreational, adult-use cannabis earlier this year, it gave local governments a one-time chance to opt out of allowing dispensaries and issuing on-site consumption licenses.

Councilman Karl Law said the state giving towns a one-and-only time to opt out put up a “red flag” for him. He wished the state would extend the deadline for the opt-out vote until it releases more details about the rules that will govern cannabis sales. He said he chose to vote for opting out just to be safe.

Town Supervisor Davina Winemiller said the town is all in for allowing dispensaries and collecting tax revenue from them, but she wants more control over their regulation. If the town wants to make regulations of its own, it has to opt out, she said, because the town does not have a zoning code.

Winemiller said she wants to not allow on-site consumption licenses and regulate where dispensaries can open.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Amell said the minimum distance between dispensaries and schools and churches is already written into the law. The law prohibits these businesses from opening within 500 feet of school grounds or 200 feet from a house of worship.

But Winemiller said the law does not have rules about distances from youth sports fields, playgrounds or parks, which she wants to have. She said the law also does not put dispensaries far enough away from schools in her eyes.

Resident opposed to cannabis

Gonyea questioned why the board would even consider allowing dispensaries in a small town.

He is worried that allowing cannabis to be sold would change Bloomingdale’s reputation. He doesn’t want the town to be seen as a place where drugs are.

“Why would you even consider this?” Gonyea asked.

Winemiller said the tax revenue from cannabis sales could help the town.

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.

“No! You can’t forgo all your feelings and everything you believe in for that God darn tax revenue,” Gonyea said. “What’s next? Then we’ll go for prostitution?”

He was also concerned by the idea of people smoking cannabis out in the open.

Winemiller said the state law says cannabis can be smoked in public or private places — anywhere tobacco can be smoked.

Earlier this year, the town board passed a resolution asking people to not smoke anything — tobacco, vapes or cannabis — in public parks.

Winemiller said they chose to pass a resolution instead of a law because it’s hard to enforce the laws they pass. There’s no police department in town and she said it’d be a big ask to have the Essex County Sheriffs Department to come out for someone smoking a cigarette in the park.

With the resolution, the town can put up signs and ask people to respect the town’s wishes, according to Winemiller.

Permissive referendum

Municipalities opt out of allowing cannabis businesses by passing a local law, like the one the town passed Tuesday.

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 town’s voters who cast ballots for governor in the last gubernatorial election — to force a public vote.

St. Armand voters cast 596 ballots in the 2018 gubernatorial election, so 60 signatures would be needed to force a referendum.

If no petition is filed within 45 days, the local law automatically becomes law.


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