Harrietstown opts in to allow cannabis shops … again

SARANAC LAKE — The Harrietstown Town Council voted to allow cannabis retail dispensaries within the town’s boundaries in a 3-2 vote Thursday.

The council already did this back in November, but town Supervisor Jordanna Mallach said they didn’t open a 45-day window for residents to potentially oppose the law at the time, so the council is going back and doing that now.

Mallach said the state’s cannabis law requires a 45-day window for voters to call for a permissive referendum in opposition to the law. This window will close on April 14.

During this time, if 5% of voters who participated in the last gubernatorial election sign a petition in opposition to the law, it would be put up for a vote on an upcoming election ballot.

In the 2022 governor election, 2,061 Harrietstown residents voted, according to Franklin County Deputy Election Commissioner Bridget Furman. So, opponents of this law would need 103 signatures to put it to a public referendum vote.

Referendums in North Elba, Lake Placid, Wilmington and Jay forced these towns to opt in to allowing cannabis shops after they all initially opted out in 2021. These referendums to reverse these decisions were successful in overturning the laws in each of these towns through votes on 2022 ballots, and each town now allows cannabis dispensaries.

This process is initiated with a legal notice.

“When we passed the cannabis law last time we did not publish a legal notice and therefore, did not afford the public the opportunity to collect 5% of the signatures from the last gubernatorial election to oppose our law,” Mallach said. “I haven’t heard any big opposition to cannabis in our community and I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

But, she said it’s a legal vulnerability and they’ve been advised to restart the process, so they have to do it again. Because this window never opened, Mallach said the opt-in vote the council took in November never became law.

Mallach said the council already held a public hearing on the law in November, so they don’t have to do that again.

On Thursday, councilmembers Ashley Milne and Jeremy Evans voted against opting in. Council members Johnny Williams, Tracey Schrader and Mallach voted to approve opting in and the motion passed 3-2.

Last time the council voted on this in November it passed 4-1, but the makeup of the council has changed since then. In November Jeff Denkenberger was serving as an interim member of the council. Since then, Evans has been sworn in to the council.

After initially opting out of allowing cannabis shops in 2021, most town councilors agreed last year that they wanted to get a slice of the tax revenue the businesses would generate as an additional revenue source.

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.

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.

The village of Saranac Lake 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.


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