Why wait on marijuana meetings?
Time is running out for local officials to make a decision on dispensaries.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation legalizing recreational marijuana in New York on March 31.
The law includes a provision that allows towns, villages and cities to decline to offer on-site consumption licenses to businesses, impose civil fines for violations and even ban dispensaries — at the expense of getting a percentage of revenue from the state’s 13% tax on marijuana products.
Cuomo’s signature triggered a deadline built into the law: To opt in to allow dispensaries, municipalities don’t have to do anything; to opt out, elected officials must pass a local law banning them by Dec. 31.
The clock started ticking nearly six months ago. Yet municipalities around the state — the village of Lake Placid and the town of North Elba among them –waited until this month to schedule a formal public meeting about this issue. Other municipalities — Saranac Lake, Harrietstown and Tupper Lake among them — haven’t scheduled public forums at all.
To be clear, these village and town boards aren’t legally required to schedule a public forum, unless they’re planning on putting a new law up for a vote, in which case a public hearing would be required. With that in mind, we think it’s a good thing that some boards scheduled a meeting at all before a law was proposed.
But why wait more than five months to set up a formal opportunity for the community to come together and share their thoughts on this issue?
When we asked a few local elected officials what their plans were back in April, shortly after Cuomo signed the bill into law, some of them told us they wanted to take a “wait-and-see” approach before making a decision. They wanted to see what other municipalities would do first, or wait for things — like the creation of the Office of Cannabis Management — to get hashed out at the state level.
The OCM, which was created by the state’s recreational marijuana law, will be tasked with regulating both medical and recreational marijuana programs. The OCM will be overseen by a Cannabis Control Board, which will decide how many dispensaries will be allowed and where they will be placed, in part based on population density.
It’s possible that based on the CCB’s criteria, the Adirondacks won’t get many dispensaries, even if lots of municipalities do opt in.
Here’s the thing: Even if the Adirondack Park doesn’t get many dispensaries, and even if local lawmakers decided to “wait and see” before making a decision, we believe they should still be proactive in gathering feedback from their communities in the meantime.
That doesn’t mean asking people in their social circles what they think or scrolling through comments on social media, but setting up forums — at different times of day, in different places, anything that might make it easier for those who work different shifts to get ample opportunity to show up.
Some lawmakers will say, “Hey, we’ve set up forums in the past and either no one showed up or very few people attended.” To that, we say: At least the community had opportunities to show up if they wanted to.
Yes, lawmakers were elected to make decisions on behalf of their constituents. However, we would argue that on issues like this — which affect lots of people, could impact municipal budgets, and may not have come up while local candidates were campaigning — it just makes sense to gather as much feedback as possible before taking a vote.
Would scheduling multiple forums — not just the required public hearing on a law — draw out the process of making a decision?
Yes. But if lawmakers were concerned about making a decision before the state’s deadline, perhaps the right time to start the process wasn’t nearly half a year after the clock started ticking.