St. Armand plans to opt out of dispensaries — for now

Town plans to opt back in, but with more regulations and no on-site consumption licenses

Cannabis bud (Photo provided via Wikimedia Commons)

BLOOMINGDALE — The St. Armand town board is planning to opt out of allowing retail cannabis shops for now, and possibly opt back in later — but some residents say they believe this is unnecessary.

The board and the public discussed the town’s cannabis law plans at a public hearing Tuesday night, where the board voted 3-1 to introduce a law opting out. It will vote on whether to pass the law itself in two weeks and will hold another public hearing before that meeting.

Town Supervisor Davina Winemiller said she wants to keep the town open to allowing cannabis dispensaries, so the town can collect the tax revenue from cannabis sales, but she also wants to ban on-site consumption licenses and regulate where dispensaries can open. She feels the best thing for the town to do is opt out now and create a local law opting in with restrictions next year.

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.

The board voted to introduce the opt-out law on Tuesday night.

Councilman Donald Amell cast the lone “no” vote. 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.

Councilman Joseph Bates was not present at the meeting.

The board will vote on this law at its regular board meeting on Dec. 14. The deadline to opt out is Dec. 31. Otherwise, the town would automatically be opted in.

Opt-out opposition

Tim Branfalt, who owns Black Dog Records and Nostalgia on state Route 3, has covered cannabis legalization in many states, including New York, for the digital cannabis news outlet Ganjapreneur since 2014.

Branfalt said he doesn’t think the town is going about this the right way.

“I think that by opting out you would be sort of starting three steps back from something that can bring a whole lot of revenue to this town,” he said. “I’m pretty sure you don’t have to opt out.”

Winemiller said the town is all in for allowing dispensaries and collecting tax revenue from them, but they want more control over their regulation. If the town wants to make regulations of its own, it has to opt out, she said.

For example, she said she’d like the town to have a say in where dispensaries could open — for example, not allowing them within 1,000 feet of the school or youth field.

Branfalt said the law already prevents dispensaries from opening within certain distances from parks, schools and churches. The law prohibits these businesses from opening within 500 feet of school grounds or 200 feet from a house of worship.

“That’s news to me,” Amell said.

Resident Olga Voronel, who is married to Branfelt, asked if the town felt it was given a one-size-fits-all law by the state. Winemiller said she agreed with that statement. Instead of adopting it at face value, she said she wants to cater it to St. Armand’s needs.

Branfalt said that in the law, local governments are also allowed to regulate zoning of these businesses further.

But Winemiller said St. Armand would not really be able to do that, because the town does not have a zoning code. She said it would be easier and faster to pass a law specific to cannabis business zoning than crafting a zoning law which would be decided by a different board.

Branfalt said the town would be opting out of revenues, too.

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.

Branfalt pointed out that so far, only 9% of New York towns and villages have opted out.

“It’s going to be here one way or another,” he said.

Winemiller said if the town opts back in, it shouldn’t miss out on tax revenue in the future.

“I personally would like us to have the dispensaries in appropriate locations in our town,” Winemiller said. “I personally do not want to see on-site consumption in our town.”

Winemiller felt there are sections of the law that are ambiguous.

“Some of the things the state has in there are about as clear as mud,” Winemiller said.

“Well, it’s New York state law,” Branfelt said.

Voronel asked if the town could “split the difference” by coupling the opt-out law with a resolution of intent to opt back in, to not scare off people who might want to open a dispensary here. She described this as a “soft opt-out.”

Winemiller said they can’t really add to the law, which she said Dan Manning, an attorney for St. Armand and Essex County drafted.

“We can’t softly say ‘no,'” she said.

Voronel said this could be seen as the town “talking out of both sides of your mouth.”

Winemiller said the work on opting back in would start early next year. She said she’d like to survey town residents for their thoughts and craft the policy in several work sessions.

“You can never make everybody happy,” she said. “But we can do the best that we can to make everything fair.”

The residents who attended the meeting Tuesday all spoke in favor of opening a dispensary in town.

“I’m an old lady, I’m a senior citizen. I have multiple health problems which marijuana is a great help to,” town resident Warrene McCarthy said.

Permissive referendum

Municipalities opt out by passing a local law, like the one the town will vote on Dec. 14.

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.

St. Armandians 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, it automatically becomes law.


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