EDITORIAL: What do we want?

WE DON’T WANT NO CANNABIS around here. But of course we do. Or maybe not. Either way, the grammar of the first sentence is perfect if read the right way. So read on… carefully.

After months of negotiations in the state legislature and a hasty transition from one governor to another, the state finally has a Cannabis Control Board that can grant licenses for the retail sale of cannabis.

So on Monday, November 8, the Chatham Village Board approved a new village law opting out of authorizing “retail dispensary and on-site consumption of cannabis” within the boundaries of the village. The board says it’s the first step toward authorizing one or more retail cannabis businesses in the village. That’s not a misprint and this is not written by someone staring through a haze of cannabis. One way to opt into cannabis sales is to opt out of them. Far out!

Chatham Mayor John Howe and two other Village Board members said at this week’s public hearing on the new law that they supported some form of retail cannabis business. That would seem like they were taking both sides at once. But it was state government that made them do it.

Village Attorney Ken Dow said that for the retail sales regulation of cannabis, “There’s no process that has previously existed in New York.” There’s no guidance for creating zoning for pot businesses, either. Other states have allowed retail cannabis industries to thrive, including Massachusetts and Colorado; but New York lawmakers want it their way.

Under this state’s Cannabis Law and other laws the communities are facing an immediate decision either to “Opt out,” by prohibiting cannabis sales in the village; or they can do nothing, which means by default all a cannabis business needs to do is follow state law and local zoning regulations.

But this is New York. Nothing is simple, especially if cannabis is involved. Let’s start with “do nothing.” Villages and other municipalities that choose to ignore the request will have to rely on existing zoning to regulate cannabis commerce.

Chatham chose to Opt out, which will keep the first wave of Cannabis shop developers out of the village. But the Village of Chatham, and all other Opt-out municipalities that are opting out before the end of this year get a do-over. They can rescind their Opt-out law and pass an Opt-in law. Ken Dow described it as like “an appealable moratorium.”

Municipalities that did nothing don’t get a do-over… for now, anyway.

There’s a certain amount of risk that comes with the opt-out approach. Every bubble has to burst. By the time the members of the Chatham Village Board get around to welcoming the Cannabis culture, Chatham may not look so attractive to investors.

The temptation is to point to successful cannabis stores like the ones in Great Barrington, MA. But it’s too early to know whether Great Barrington is typical of the industry or a special case. And that appraisal might not be as important a factor for Chatham as the need for more parking and other services that the Village of Chatham will need to maintain what Mayor Howe identified as our quality of life.

Villages like Chatham are among the smallest municipalities in the state. They don’t have much of a say about where, outside the tax base, the money will come from to support villages in the future. So when this really cool revenue source appears, it’s hard to resist.

The board should stick with its position that residents don’t necessarily want “no cannabis”; but if there will be cannabis business in Chatham it should be on terms set by the village.

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