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Town Board votes not to allow commercial cannabis joints

NORTH EAST — After taking into account the community’s thoughts and concerns during the mandated public hearings, the North East Town Board voted to approve two local laws opting out of allowing cannabis retail dispensaries and on-site lounges in town at its board meeting on Thursday, Sept. 9.

Former Governor Andrew Cuomo had set a Dec. 31 deadline for municipalities to decide whether they would permit such businesses. Those that opt out by that date can choose to opt in at a later time, but if no action is taken by year’s end both will become legal with no ability to opt out in the future.

The board met at 7 p.m. in the NorthEast-Millerton Library Annex; the public hearing on the local law to opt in or out of commercial cannabis retail dispensaries was scheduled for 7:20 p.m. In addition to the Town Board, about a dozen people attended. Once the latest town business had been addressed, town Supervisor Chris Kennan opened the public hearing.

Before listening to public comments, Kennan reminded the board that it voted to opt out of permitting cannabis dispensaries and lounges in town at its meeting on Aug. 12. The board was also reminded by Attorney to the Town Warren Replansky it can opt in at a later date. If the town opts in, Kennan said the town may not use its zoning powers to prevent dispensaries or lounges from opening in town. As the town is looking for more information on how dispensaries and lounges will be regulated, Kennan said it was really about “keeping options open for the town.”

As the public hearing’s first speaker, resident Meg Winkler said she supported the town’s opting out at the moment until more information about state regulations becomes available. 

Should North East decide to allow dispensaries, she inquired how they’ll be regulated in town versus in the village of Millerton. 

As far as zoning, Winkler said she’d love to see dispensaries if they were in places with high traffic, such as in the Irondale area or south of the village on Route 22. If it was ever possible, she said she’d like to have dispensaries located off the farms that grow cannabis.

“I think that would be a nice connection for people to understand where it’s coming from,” Winkler said.

Like Winkler, resident Griffin Cooper said that because of the uncertain nature of state regulations at this point, he supported the town opting out, though he said he would support marijuana dispensaries in town in the future, pointing out the potential avenues for creating additional tax revenue in town.

Resident Ray Nelson said he was opposed to dispensaries and lounges in town. Based on research he’s done about the negative impacts of cannabis, he said he didn’t see how the town would benefit from having such establishments. Though he understood it would be “one more business bringing in tax revenue,” Nelson said, “there must be some other business that we’d prefer to have… so my vote is no.”

As there were no other comments, the hearing closed at 7:30 p.m. 

Replansky suggested the board open the next public hearing for the local law regarding marijuana lounges and then do a brief environmental review for the law, as required.

The second hearing opened at 7:31 p.m., and all three individuals who spoke at the first public hearing again shared their thoughts. 

Should the town decide to opt in, Winkler said she was against smoking lounges in the town and village. 

Cooper said he was for more research on dispensaries and felt on-site lounges were where they “really get into the cultural fabric of the town and the risks that come into play.”

Once that hearing closed, Replansky said that while there’s a good argument to make that local laws on dispensaries and lounges will conceivably not impact on the environment, he prepared the environmental impact statement (EIS) under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process and recommended the board adopt a negative declaration indicating the laws will have no adverse environmental impact. The board unanimously approved the negative declaration.

The board noted both local laws to opt out of the commercial marijuana businesses are subject to permissive referendums based on New York State’s new marijuana law passed in March, called the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). The MRTA legalized adult-use recreational marijuana; New York approved medical marijuana in 2014. 

There’s a 45-day period during which a referendum can be filed; if a referendum is filed the board will have to hold a special election.

After further discussion, the board unanimously adopted the two local laws opting out of permitting either marijuana dispensaries or lounges.

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