Harrietstown considers opting in to cannabis shops
After opting out in 2021, town council now wants potential tax revenue from cannabis sales
SARANAC LAKE — The Harrietstown Town Council is considering allowing retail cannabis businesses within its boundaries to get a slice of the tax revenue the businesses would generate.
When cannabis sale was legalized in New York in 2021, local governments had a one-time option to opt out of allowing dispensaries and consumption lounges within their borders, with the option to reverse this decision at a later date. Local governments were automatically opted in otherwise.
The Harrietstown Council chose to opt out in the last minute, saying they wanted to wait for state regulations to be finalized before making a decision, since that was their only chance to opt out and the decision could easily be reversed at a later date.
Now, that later date has arrived.
The village of Saranac Lake remained opted in, though. Since the village is inside the town and houses the majority of the town’s commerce, cannabis sales are already allowed in a large portion of the town. Opting in now would allow the town to get a piece of that tax revenue and allow dispensaries to open in the parts of town outside the village boundaries.
So far, the town board has indicated an interest in passing this law and it has asked its attorney to draft this law. A public hearing would need to be held on this law. The date of this hearing is to be determined at the next town meeting on Oct. 12.
The board advanced this in a 4-1 vote on Thursday. Councilwoman Ashley Milne voted against the measure, saying she disagrees with the way the state has distributed the taxation of cannabis. She believes the state is not taxing it enough and that more money should be designated for youth awareness and education.
“I just don’t agree with how the taxation is set up and how those funds are used,” Milne said.
For Councilman Johnny Williams, this was an ideological decision.
“More than dollars and cents, if the substance is legal, it’s more of a personal freedom thing,” Williams said.
Williams said it’s “now or never” and they should “strike while the iron’s hot.”
Town Supervisor Jordanna Mallach said with a tight budget year approaching — the council started discussing it’s budget on Thursday, too — this could be an added revenue source.
“An additional revenue source would be put to good use,” she said.
But it would likely be a while before the town could begin collecting tax revenue on cannabis sales. Mostly because no dispensaries are licensed yet.
The Elevate ADK cannabis shop in the Saranac Lake plaza on Lake Flower Avenue is set to open once the courts allow. But this location is in the town of North Elba, not Harrietstown.
The planned cannabis cultivation and retail store on the corner of Ampersand Avenue and Broadway, Alpine Agronomy, is in Harrietstown. But the license for its owner to start growing and selling there doesn’t even exist yet.
Under the state law, every cannabis sale is taxed at 13% on three levels — 9% to the state, 3% to the local government where the sale took place and 1% to the county where that local government is located.
The local level includes both towns and villages. So if Alpine Agronomy starts making sales and the town opts in, those taxes would be split 50-50 between the town and village, with each getting 1.5% of the total sale price. If a dispensary opened in Harrietstown outside the village lines, the town would be dealt the full 3%.
Mallach floated the idea of a cannabis growing operation opening in the town-owned business park out in Lake Clear. There’s lots of room there and the town’s been looking to attract more businesses to the complex. But these growing operations take a lot of water, she said she’s heard, and there’s not much water infrastructure currently at the park.
Consumption lounges considered
Some councilmembers voiced an interest in also allowing cannabis consumption lounges. This would require passing a second law. Councilmembers said they wanted to see a template of this law first before agreeing to move forward.
The board relied on the analogy of alcohol discussing these two different business types. A dispensary is like a liquor store. A consumption lounge is like a bar.
Cannabis can be smoked publicly anywhere tobacco can be smoked. This includes sidewalks and any park where smoking is not banned.
Councilman Jeff Denkenberger didn’t like this. He feels public cannabis consumption should be regulated closer to the open container law for alcohol than for cigarette smoking.
Williams said maybe if cannabis consumers have a place to smoke, it would keep them off the street.
Williams said he doubts a lounge would be successful in Harrietstown but he felt it should be up to the free market to decide.
The Harrietstown Town Council will meet on Oct. 12 to decide on a date for a public hearing on the cannabis law.