Tupper Lake cannabis hearing draws no public comments

Cannabis bud (Photo provided via Wikimedia Commons)

TUPPER LAKE — The village held a public hearing on Monday on its plan to temporarily opt out of allowing cannabis sales — but no one showed up to comment.

With just the village board and media present, the mayor and trustees discussed the reasons some of them want to opt out now and back in later, but Trustee Ron LaScala said he doubts opting in from the get-go would cause any harm.

When the state legalized recreational, adult-use cannabis earlier this year, it gave local governments a one-time option of opting out of allowing dispensaries and issuing on-site consumption licenses. Local governments have to opt out by Dec. 31 if they choose to. Otherwise, the municipalities will automatically be opted in.

LaScala is the only board member who supports opting in now, as the town council did last month. The rest of the village board wants to opt out at first, with many board members citing concerns that regulations could potentially add expenses to the village budget. Specifically, they’re wondering if the state could require police presence at dispensaries.

They see this as their one time to avoid any possible cannabis business rules they don’t like.

Village Mayor Paul Maroun said it’s the potential costs he’s worried about, again saying that if the state requires dispensaries to have police protection, the village couldn’t afford to supply that.

The state Office of Cannabis Management has not yet released the rules and regulations for how cannabis business licenses will be rolled out and Maroun said they likely won’t be released until the spring.

LaScala said he’s not fighting the rest of the board’s decision too hard because he knows they will eventually opt back in, but he also said opting out and back in is “an unnecessary step.”

“I think opting out is just another hurdle,” he said.

Board members said they plan to act on opting in as soon as they see the regulations.

LaScala said he would be “stunned” if the state’s regulations cost village taxpayers. He pointed out that no state which has legalized cannabis in the U.S. has ever required police security at dispensaries.

“It’s going to be very similar to alcohol and tobacco,” he said. “We shouldn’t be turning businesses away.”

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 the village could lose out on cannabis tax revenue at first, but he thinks it would be a “failure” on the board’s part if it opted in without seeing the regulations first. He said he agrees with opting back in after the rules are known to “protect taxpayers.”

McClain said lots of people smoke cannabis recreationally and he’s supportive of a dispensary opening here.

Recently reelected Trustee David “Haji” Maroun said he is “100%” for having dispensaries in Tupper Lake, but wants to know how the state will regulate them first. He said people who are considering opening dispensaries are also waiting on the state to tell them its rules.

Recently reelected Trustee Leon Leblanc said he’s not against allowing dispensaries, but doesn’t want to “open a can of worms” without knowing if it will cost the village.

Tupper Lake Free Press Publisher Dan McClelland told the board he’s visited dispensaries in Ontario, Canada and that they were all clean, professional and safe.

Maroun said the public comment period will remain open for a week — until this coming Monday. During this time, residents can send letters to the village office or call and voice their opinions to have them recorded in the public record. Village Clerk Mary Casagrain said she’d prefer if people send letters — it’s easier than transcribing a call.

Maroun said the board will vote on the opt-out law at a meeting on Dec. 15.

To opt out, municipalities must pass 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.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today