Village postpones welcome for legal pot shops

CHATHAM—The Village of Chatham passed a local law opting out of retail dispensary and on-site consumption of cannabis at their meeting on Monday night. The board held a public hearing before the meeting with several comments and questions from the public about the new law and the possibility of changing it down the road.

Last spring, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) was signed into law, legalizing cannabis for adults 21 years of age or older in the state.

“This law sets out a framework that will comprehensively regulate cannabis in New York State in a manner that will protect public health and safety, while promoting social equity and economic development. The Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) will license cultivators, processors, distributors and dispensaries to grow and sell cannabis in New York,” according to the OCM website site. The overview on the website goes on to say, “The Office will develop rules and regulations for the adult-use industry. Please check back soon.”

The new law gives municipalities until December to decide if they want to opt out of allowing dispensaries and on-site consumption licenses for businesses. If a municipality does not opt-out by December, the municipality will be unable to opt-out at a future date. However, a municipality may opt back in, to allow either, or both, adult-use retail dispensary or on-site consumption license types by repealing the local law which established the prohibition. Not opting out means that a municipality is opted in.

The village passed a law to opt out of both dispensaries and on-site consumption to give the board more time to look at the issue. Village Attorney Ken Dow called it a “repeal-able moratorium.” He said at the November 8 meeting that the moratorium comes down to zoning. According to Mr. Dow, under the current village zoning there is no category for dispensaries or on-site consumption sites, so they would just fall under any other kind of retail.

The local law that was adopted at the meeting points out that the board “finds that the uncertainties about the potential effects of the permitting of cannabis retail sale and on-site consumption, as well as the zoning considerations that may be warranted in relation to establishments of such sale and consumption, invite further consideration before an irrevocable decision is made.”

Mayor John Howe said that passing the local law was the “best action for us to take at this time” but he stressed that he was not opposed to the new state law and that he does think about the financial incentives to having these businesses in the village. The village would receive about 75% of the tax revenue from sales, according to the state. He also said that the board has to think about “quality of life here too.”

Some residents at the meeting were concerned about traffic, citing Great Barrington, MA, which has dispensaries and now a lot of traffic. And there were also concerns about on-site consumption, which the mayor said can be separated from allowing dispensaries.

Mayor Howe also pointed out that the village is within the municipalities of the Towns of Chatham and Ghent. According to the new law, “if a town and a village within the town both allow adult-use sales, the revenue shall be distributed based on agreed upon distribution agreement between the town and village. If no such agreement exists, then the revenue distribution between the town and village will be divided evenly.”

The Town of Chatham has a public hearing set for November 18 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss a local law “opting out of licensing and establishing on-site cannabis consumption establishments within the Town of Chatham.”

Mayor Howe said the Town of Ghent just elected a new supervisor and two new Town Board members, who will take office in January, so they are in a time of transition and he has not heard what the Ghent officials plan to do.

There were residents who asked about being left out of the revenue if the village opts out now. And another resident, who said he supported the local law opting out, wanted to know the timeline for updating village zoning.

Mayor Howe said the village is looking at March, around the time of village elections, but he stressed that changes to zoning comes with local laws and public hearings, which have set times for how fast they can be voted on by the board.

“I don’t see this taking a year,” he said. He told the people at the public hearing to “hold us to that.”

Board member Melony Spock said at the meeting, “I don’t have a problem with opting in” but that the board wanted to “make sure that we do it right.”

Board member Jaimee Boehme said she did not have a problem with dispensaries but “my concern is the on-site consumption.”

The local law will take effect December 20 but it is subject to permissive referendum, which means that within 30 days of Monday’s vote by the board, residents could submit a petition to the village clerk with enough signatures for a vote by residents on whether to opt out. The full text of the law is online at the Village of Chatham website.

Also at the meeting:

• Residents on Austerlitz Street presented a petition about having sidewalks. Stephen Piazza, who presented the petition, pointed out that there were sidewalks on the street at one point. Mayor Howe talked about the possibility using federal money for that project

• Mr. Piazza also thanked the village for putting a speed radar sign on the street. The new sign, which shows each vehicle’s speed, was purchased by the village as part of the recent police reform report. Mayor Howe said that the data shows that people slow down 3 to 5 mph when they see the sign

• Also as part of police reform, Deputy Chief Joe Alessi said the Police Department will have a meet-and-greet at the police station in the Tracy Memorial on December 11. Information will be on the village’s website

• Mayor Howe thanked the fire company for the Halloween event at the county fairgrounds. The Chatham Police also closed of Kinderhook Street on Halloween for trick-or-treaters

• Mayor Howe announced that the records seized by the state Comptroller’s Office in 2019 during an investigation into village finances had just been returned.

The next Village Board meeting will be Monday, December 13 at 7 p.m. The board meets on the second floor of the Tracy Memorial Building on Main Street.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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