Amenia opts out of commercial marijuana sales and lounges
AMENIA — Having kept the community in suspense after having delayed its past few planned discussions on whether it will opt in or out of allowing cannabis dispensaries and lounges in town, the Amenia Town Board passed a local law to opt out of allowing either at its 7 p.m. workshop meeting on Thursday, Oct. 7. The entire board, Attorney to the Town Ian Lindars and others attended the Zoom meeting.
During public comment, Town Clerk Dawn Marie Klingner read aloud a comment submitted via email by resident Daniel Donnelly, who opposed the law and encouraged the board to reconsider permitting selling marijuana in town, as well as legalizing smoking lounges.
Though he said he does not personally consume cannabis, Donnelly told board members without realizing it, they’re already surrounded by people who do. This includes, he stated, among others, educators, artists, farmers, athletes, clergy, attorneys and even law enforcement.
“There are neighbors and relatives that you may be unaware of their cannabis consumption because it makes them no less productive than any other person,” Donnelly wrote. “For Amenia to close its doors to the option of recreational cannabis would only stigmatize these residents by making them feel they have to go elsewhere to partake in the market of the shameful indulgence, which it’s not.”
A vote against the present resolution, he continued, would make Amenia more inclusive for those residents “who belong to the migrant [population] of social political constituents.”
As part of his public comment, Donnelly attached a petition that he circulated in the community, adding that the number of signatures collected was a small fraction of the people who contacted him directly pledging opposition to the board’s resolution.
After a quick review of the document, Klingner reported approximately 25 signatures were collected.
Turning the board’s attention to the resolution introducing the local law, town Supervisor Victoria Perotti explained the regulations of the state’s new marijuana law.
If Amenia does nothing, she said, the town will automatically “opt in” to the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) passed in March, which permits cannabis dispensaries and lounges in municipalities statewide. The MRTA legalized adult-use recreational marijuana; New York approved medical marijuana in 2014.
Former Governor Andrew Cuomo set a Dec. 31 deadline for municipalities to either opt in or out of allowing dispensaries and lounges in their communities. If Amenia opts out now, Perotti said the board has the option of opting in at a later date if it wants to.
Councilman Damian Gutierrez stressed that while the town can opt out now and choose to opt in later, New York State intends to issue only a fixed number of licenses, roughly 700 in total. He said there’s no current time line or guidance on when or if the state will distribute more licenses after that. Currently, the Cannabis Control Board is being manned, which will set clear guidelines for municipalities to follow.
“So while it’s accurate to say we could opt in later, in practice it may be irrelevant because the licenses may have all been distributed,” Gutierrez said.
Responding to Donnelly’s comment that he didn’t feel it’s the government’s job to make health-related decisions, Gutierrez said he personally disagreed.
Specific to the MRTA, the councilman said, “New York State has made recreational use legal and so nothing we do as a Town Board will make recreational use in the town of Amenia illegal. What we’re really talking about today is retail.”
Gutierrez also spoke about the revenue component entailed with the marijuana law and the insight he’s gained both from his research and from his conversations with retailers in Great Barrington, Mass., where pot has been sold for the past five years with great success.
From what Gutierrez said, the Massachusetts community has seen a large number of residents from neighboring states crossing their borders to buy marijuana in the popular Massachusetts shopping district, adding there’s the potential for towns like Amenia to make similar revenue.
However, the more municipalities that open up commercial cannabis operations, the less tax revenue each individual municipality will make, as they will have to split their profits among not only all of the towns and villages that claim a stake, but also with the county and state. Nearby Pine Plains has already announced it will permit marijuana dispensaries in its town, about 40 minutes northwest of Amenia.
Gutierrez said he was told Theory Wellness, a dispensary in Great Barrington, earned $30 million in revenue in its first year of operation — but stressed he has not verified the numbers. At $30 million, he said that would mean $1.2 million in revenue split between Dutchess County and the town — roughly what Amenia would typically collect in a typical year from property taxes.
Following further discussion, the board passed the resolution with a majority vote. Gutierrez was the only board member who voted against the resolution, as he was in favor of allowing commercial cannabis operations in the town.
A public hearing on the local law will be held at Amenia Town Hall at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4.