Harrietstown opts in to allow cannabis shops

Saranac Lake asks town for 100% of tax revenue

SARANAC LAKE — The Harrietstown Town Council decided to allow cannabis retail dispensaries within the town’s boundaries in a 4-1 vote Thursday.

After initially opting out of allowing cannabis shops in 2021, most town councilors want to get a slice of the tax revenue the businesses would generate as an additional revenue source. At the same time, the village is pitching an agreement with Harrietstown where the town would forgo its portion of the tax revenue, leaving it all to the village, and the village would put it into services both municipalities share.

When the selling of recreational cannabis 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, with councilors saying at the time that 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 be reversed at a later date by repealing the opt-out law.

That day came on Thursday.

Town Supervisor Jordanna Mallach voted to pass the repeal, along with councilors Tracey Schrader, Johnny Williams and Jeff Denkenberger. Councilwoman Ashley Milne voted against the motion.

When the discussion of opting in to cannabis sales first came up, Milne said 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.

Some councilmembers have previously voiced an interest in also allowing cannabis consumption lounges. This would require passing a second law, which the town is not considering now, but might at some point in the future.

There was minimal public comment on the topic at the meeting. Only village Mayor Jimmy Williams showed up to speak. He requested the town consider an agreement to forgo its share of the tax revenue from cannabis sales in any dispensaries that might open inside the village portion of the town.

The village opted in to allowing cannabis sales in 2021. Currently, there are no dispensaries within the village portion of Harrietstown.

The Elevate ADK cannabis shop in the Saranac Lake Plaza on Lake Flower Avenue is open but located in the town of North Elba, not Harrietstown.

It would likely be a while before the town could begin collecting tax revenue on cannabis sales. A 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 has not been issued yet amid stalls in the state’s permit rollout.

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 a Saranac Lake-based dispensary in Harrietstown 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% tax on each sale.

The state allows for agreements for local governments to not split that 3% tax and let it all go to one government.

Williams said the village has spent time and money on setting this law in place — working with a consulting firm to develop the law, sending it through its village attorney, creating the new permitting process in the code department and policing dispensaries like a bar or liquor store.

“That cost you guys money?” Milne asked.

Jimmy said it did.

“It kind of boils down to, there’s a great cost that we don’t share, but we’re going to share the revenue inside the village boundaries. And something about that seems a little off,” Jimmy said. “In my mind, it’s worth the conversation to say ‘Hey, we’re carrying all the efforts to make this possible.'”

He said the village would put the money from cannabis tax revenue toward services residents of both the town and village use — the Adult Center, the Youth Center, the Civic Center and emergency services. It wouldn’t just pad the village budget, he said.

This agreement would also not be set in stone and could be revisited at a later date, he added.

Williams said he is asking this same agreement of North Elba, too. North Elba voters opted the town in to allowing cannabis dispensaries in a November 2022 referendum.

The Harrietstown councilmembers said they will come back to discuss this idea again in the future.

Johnny, Jimmy’s brother, said he likes the idea of dedicating the tax revenue to a certain cause, whether it is split between the town and village or not.

“I can’t think of a better thing to spend it on than youth,” he said.

Denkenberger agreed.

“It’s one of the redeeming things if you’re against the sale and use of marijuana,” Johnny said.


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