Pot law options pose puzzles

COPAKE—Opt in or opt out?

That’s the decision municipalities across the state must make in connection with the new law legalizing marijuana.

Signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo March 31, the legislation:

*Legalizes adult-use cannabis

*Establishes the Office of Cannabis Management to implement a comprehensive regulatory framework that covers medical, adult-use and cannabinoid hemp

*Expands the state’s existing medical marijuana and cannabinoid hemp programs

*Provides licensing for marijuana producers, distributors, retailers and other actors in the cannabis market

*Creates a social and economic equity program to assist individuals disproportionately impacted by cannabis enforcement who want to participate in the industry, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

At the July 8 Copake Town Board meeting, the first in-person meeting since March 2020, Town Supervisor Jeanne Mettler asked Town Attorney Kenneth J. Dow to talk about the new law and what it means for Copake.

Mr. Dow told the board the state regulates the new marijuana industry through the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), which is akin to the state Liquor Authority, Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The OCM will be an independent office operating as part of the New York State Liquor Authority.

“All the details of operation are made by state agencies including siting regulations, like the alcohol laws,” said Mr. Dow.

He said there many kinds of licenses associated with the new industry, but there are two types in particular that are important to the town: retail dispensary licenses and on-site consumption licenses. He likened dispensaries to liquor stores and on-site consumption places to bars.

According to the governor’s press release, the “legislation will create a two-tier licensing structure that will allow for a large range of producers by separating those growers and processors from also owning retail stores. The legislation creates licenses for producers and distributors, among other entities, and the legislation will implement strict quality control, public health and consumer protections.”

Town zoning regulations will be applicable to these establishments. “The town can decide where and how,” said Mr. Dow in addition to state regulations about where these places can be located. “They have to be run in a business district, not out of your house,” he said.

While towns cannot opt out of adult-use cannabis legalization, towns can opt out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses within their borders by passing a local law by December 31. The local law will be subject to a permissive referendum.

‘The town can decide where and how.’

Attorney Ken Dow

Town of Copake

After that date towns cannot opt out, but if they opt out before the deadline they can later repeal the opt-out law they adopted. But they cannot opt out later if they have not done so by December 31. Confusing enough for you?

If dispensaries and on-site consumption establishments are permitted in a municipality, the sales tax they generate goes back to the municipality.

Mr. Dow said two applications for such establishments have already been received by the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).

One was disallowed because it was near a church and the other because it was in a rural location, not in an area where any retail operation is permitted, he said.

In response to a question from Councilman Jeffrey Judd about the legality of a farmer selling his tomatoes at a roadside stand without a license as opposed to selling pot, Mr. Dow said, pot can’t be sold without a license, “it’s not a free for all.”

Offering some food for thought as the board considers the matter, Copake resident Miranda Maganini said she knows of one dispensary not far away in Great Barrington, MA, that does $60,000 worth of business every weekend. That amount of business could generate $125,000/year in taxes (4%) for Copake. Such a business “could yield quite a bit for this town,” she said.

In nearby Ancram, town officials sent residents an email survey, asking them to answer the question:

“Should the Town of Ancram opt out of provisions of the Marijuana Law that permit the establishment in the Town of Ancram of stores that sell marijuana and ‘lounges’ where you can smoke marijuana?”

Of the 300 Ancram residents who responded, 39% or 117 people said the town should opt out, while 61% or 183 people voted to opt in.

Copake, like other Columbia County towns, will consider the issue further in the coming months.

In another matter involving Mr. Dow at the Copake Town Board meeting, Ms. Mettler said that due to time constraints Mr. Dow had tendered his resignation as town attorney—a post he has held for nine and a half years. He will continue his work as the attorney for both the ZBA and Planning Board.

Supervisor Mettler called Mr. Dow a “smart, able and competent attorney.” She thanked him, saying, it had been her privilege to work with him and that the town had “benefited from [his] expertise.”

Mr. Dow said that due to his position as Columbia County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner, he finds that he cannot respond promptly during the day to town issues that need a quick response.

Mr. Dow’s resignation will take effect as soon as the town finds someone to fill the position.

To contact Diane Valden email

K’hook wants to know more about pot law, too

VALATIE—Meanwhile in the northern end of the county, at the Kinderhook Town Board meeting July 12, Supervisor Patsy Leader gave her board some information from the state to review about allowing cannabis dispensaries in the town or opting out. “There is a lot to read,” Supervisor Leader said.

In March, Governor Cuomo signed a bill legalizing adult-use cannabis. As part of the bill, cities, towns, and villages may opt-out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by December 31, 2021 or nine months after the effective date of the legislation. “They cannot opt-out of adult-use legalization,” according to the state website of Office of Cannabis Management.

The supervisor pointed out that the board has until the end of the year to decide, and suggested the board form a committee to look into the issue. She also said she was hoping residents would give the board “some feedback.”

The board tabled making any decision on opting out of allowing the dispensaries. Supervisor Leader said the Village of Valatie Board would also be discussing the issue at their next meeting. The Village of Kinderhook will have to make its own decision on opting out.

Supervisor Leader said that there are “a lot of pros and cons” to the issue.

Town Councilman Phil Bickerton said the tax revenue for the town from having dispensaries was a big issue for him. The town would receive 75% of the local retail tax revenue and the county would receive 25%. But the supervisor said that county has no say in what the town decides.

Supervisor Leader also said that residents have asked her about zoning for dispensaries. Attorney Andy Howard said that it would be considered retail space use at this point. But he also stressed that the town needed more information from the state about licensing and other issues.

Kinderhook United, a political group supporting Democratic candidates for Town Board and supervisor this November, have released a survey asking for residents opinion on the issue. The survey is at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XWRC8QF—Emilia Teasdale

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