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North East approves the sale of commercial cannabis

NORTH EAST — It is now legal to sell cannabis in the town of North East. That’s after the Town Board passed a resolution approving cannabis dispensaries within the town at its board meeting on Thursday, July 14. The in-person meeting was also aired via Zoom for those who couldn’t attend; the session will soon be available online, at www.townofnortheastny.gov.

According to town Supervisor Chris Kennan, “the Town Board voted to reverse course from last year and opt in to permitting cannabis dispensaries in town.” 

Kennan explained the full board voted unanimously to approve the move because now much more is known about how the state plans to handle legal marijuana sales.

“The reason really was because last year when we opted out, we did promise the public we would come back and revisit the issue this year,” he said in an interview on Friday, July 15. “So little was known about it at the time we felt it was the more prudent thing to opt out of both dispensaries and on-site consumption lounges. And we only dealt with dispensaries last night. Our feeling was that it is a legal business, and that we are interested in the potential tax revenues that these businesses could produce for the town.”

Towns that have cannabis dispensaries would split the tax revenue with the county and state, with 1% going to the county and 9% going to the state, according to Kennan; 3% of the tax revenues would go to the town, which would be shared with the village, whether the village has a dispensary or not. 

“We both derive the tax benefit,” said Kennan, adding it would be highly unlikely that both municipalities would be granted licenses.

“We will not both have dispensaries, because the number of licenses they’ll distribute around the state is limited,” he said. “There are 700 around the state, and lots of them in are in big cities and major population areas.”

He added it also doesn’t make sense to have oversaturate the market. One reason Great Barrington, Mass., was so successful when pot became legal a couple of years ago was because no communities nearby could legally sell the drug.

“I think we need to keep in mind with Great Barrington,” he said, “they benefited from all of western Connecticut driving up there and a lot of Dutchess and Columbia Counties in New York driving over there, so they had a very large potential market, which will shrink when New York State gets dispensaries and when Connecticut also gets dispensaries, which I believe is coming.”

Millerton already approved allowing cannabis dispensaries in the village, and is sure to have potential businesses apply for licenses.

In total, 13% in tax revenues would be made by communities in New York that allow commercial cannabis sales.

“Nobody is saying the streets are going to be paved with gold,” said a pragmatic Kennan. “I think we are realistic about it, but we will welcome it as another tax-paying business.”

Not every municipality that applies for a license will get one, with only 700 licenses being granted. The state is giving priority to profitable business owners convicted of a marijuana-related offense or family members who have been.

The New York State Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) states on its website, www.cannabis.ny.gov/licensing, “The OCM will promote social and economic equity applicants who have been harmed by the prohibition of cannabis for adult-use licenses, establishing a goal of awarding 50% of licenses to social and economic equity applicants.”

Kennan added that if a dispensary is allowed in the town, it will necessitate other decisions touching on zoning, planning, etc. He said such businesses will ideally be located in more commercial parts of North East.

“I think the Boulevard District and the commercial districts on Route 22 are the most likely locations,” he said.

The town supervisor added those involved in the cultivation of cannabis will not be allowed to own dispensaries. 

That’s noteworthy a couple of cannabis farms have cropped up in North East recently. An application from Michael Harney is currently before the North East Planning Board, and Sky Farm and Herondale Farm have a joint venture growing cannabis.

“You cannot be on both ends of the trade, that’s a New York State rule; it’s a law,” he said.

In terms of when the state will be ready to issue licenses, Kennan was not quite sure.

“This is so new, I don’t think anybody knows how long that process will take, I’m sure it won’t be overnight. I don’t see anybody having a business open this year.”

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