Harrietstown opts out under the wire

Cannabis can still be sold in village; residents debate before town vote

SARANAC LAKE — Members of the Harrietstown town board opted out of allowing licenses to be issued for cannabis dispensaries and consumption lounges for now, taking their vote on Thursday — one day before the deadline to opt out.

Town Supervisor Mike Kilroy said this will only apply to areas of town outside the village of Saranac Lake. Village board members did not pass local laws opting out of issuing licenses for cannabis dispensaries and consumption by the state’s Dec. 31 deadline, thereby opting in automatically.

When the state legalized recreational, adult-use cannabis on March 31, it gave local governments a one-time option of opting out of allowing dispensaries and on-site consumption.

Harrietstown’s last-minute decision was announced in early December. For months, the town’s plans had been to follow the village’s lead to remain consistent. But now, while the village has taken no action, the town board is deviating to buy time before they make a permanent decision. Municipalities that adopt local cannabis opt-out laws have the option to opt in at a later date by rescinding those laws.

Residents debate

Thursday was Harrietstown residents’ last time to discuss the cannabis decision before the board voted on it, and advocates for opting out and opting in showed up to debate their positions in a back-and-forth discussion. Both sides said the town has “every reason” to side with them.

Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to opt out, adopting separate laws to opt out of dispensaries and consumption lounges. The board said they’re open to eventually opting back in. Their reasoning for opting out now was over concerns about the “finality” of the decision the state presented them with.

Opt-in advocates like Ken Wright, who co-owns the High Peaks Glassworks smoke shop on Main Street, said the town does not need to fear a “bogeyman” hiding in the unfinished cannabis license regulations and should secure its position to collect tax revenue from cannabis sales.

“The fear of the unknown, it seems, is what’s holding folks back,” Wright said. “I understand the hesitancy with New York not having everything fully rolled out, but New York also needs this money. We need money.”

Opt-out advocates said the town has time to make its decision and does not need to opt in now, while the rules are being written.

“You can always opt in at a later date once the regulations have been passed,” resident Paul Brannigan said. “Without opting out tonight, you’re going to be losing a major amount of control you’re going to be able to have over the marijuana retail business. … By voting to opt out tonight, you’re protecting the town’s position to negotiate.”

He said he thinks it is “absurd” that New York passed the legislation without all regulations set up.

Resident Susan Whiteman concurred and said there is “nothing to be lost” by opting out at first.

“Every other community in our area has opted out because of not having enough information,” she said.

In a letter resident Rich Olber sent to the board, he wrote, “Let’s see how it plays out elsewhere before committing to it here.”

On the flip side, Wright said with every other community opting out, Harrietstown stands to gain more if it opts in.

Wright asked the town to consider opting in, saying it would be a huge financial boost to the area.

“As we know, our economic situation here is quite, um, sad,” Wright said.

Brannigan agreed — the area could use the added tax revenue — but he said since dispensaries likely won’t open until late 2022, the town can wait to opt in without missing much of the cash.

There’s no need for the wait in Wright’s view.

“This is my industry,” he said, adding that he’s spent a lot of time researching cannabis legalization since it was announced.

He said the state’s already addressed many key areas of cannabis business regulation and he’s skeptical that there will be anything unexpected in the final rules.

At the same time, he said people are interested and invested in opening cannabis businesses and the village can already zone these businesses and tell them how and where they can operate.

He said the state is releasing new regulations about cannabis licenses “continually” and said the precedent set by other states legalizing cannabis shows “little to no negative impact” on communities.

He also said New York has already set up a medical cannabis system that works fine and will be a framework for a recreational system.

Wright said he felt the board’s discussion about cannabis was too negative.

He said if people can consume cannabis publicly, as the state has legalized, the town should create an environment where people can buy and consume it in a way which benefits the town, creates jobs and regulates the sale of the substance.

Wright said towns allow breweries, which are opening up all over the area and benefit the economy, but said there is “zero care” given to whether these establishments cause drunk driving when they open.

He said drunken drivers “permeate the roads.”

Permissive referendum deadline set

The local cannabis opt-out laws are subject to a permissive referendum. For towns, that means residents have 45 days from the adoption of the law to gather enough signatures — at least 10% of the residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election — to force a public vote.

If no petition is filed within 45 days, the local laws will be filed with the New York secretary of state and will take effect immediately.


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