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Lake Placid’s cannabis forum brings quiet crowd

LAKE PLACID — Around 50 people attended an informational session on the state’s cannabis law on Wednesday, Sept. 29, but only one member of the community shared an opinion.

The state Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act legalized recreational cannabis use on March 31, and municipalities have the option to opt out of allowing recreational dispensaries and/or on-site consumption sites in their jurisdiction until Dec. 31. The Sept. 29 informational session on the law was an opportunity for the community to learn more about the law and for village and town officials to hear residents’ thoughts before making a decision.

Lake Placid Central School District Superintendent Timothy Seymour gave his input following a presentation on the new state law by Association of Towns attorney Sarah Brancatella.

“There’s a lot of viewpoints on this, and each of those viewpoints, you know, are informed by the experiences that each person carries with them,” Seymour said.

Seymour spoke from the experience of a school administrator; he said he has seen an uptick in students who are using vapes and “discrete nicotine and THC delivery devices.” He said that he believes providing greater access to discrete THC devices and concentrated THC “poses a threat to the mission of our school to educate our students.”

Seymour said that he believes dispensaries normalize the use of recreational drugs and dispensary items like THC candy, gummies and sodas that are “designed to be appealing to young adults and children” and “act as an attractive nuisance to the youth.” He said the walkability of the Lake Placid community, where schools and parks are close to Main street shops, makes the requirement for dispensaries to stay at least 500 feet away from schools seem inadequate. He requested the shops stay far out of the walkable distance to schools if the community does opt in to dispensaries.

Under the MRTA, it’s illegal for dispensaries to sell cannabis products to individuals under 21 years old, and vendors can refuse a sale to anyone they believe to be underage or to be buying for an underage individual.

Seymour also brought up on-site consumption licenses, and the challenge they could pose for local law enforcement, since on-site consumption would require people to seek transport to and from the site. Under the MRTA, the same laws that prohibit drivers from operating vehicles while under the influence of alcohol also prohibit drivers from driving under the influence of marijuana. Seymour questioned the ability of law enforcement, within current staffing and capabilities, to assess “this new threat to our roads and walkways in a way that will significantly deter this behavior.”

Seymour encouraged local officials to distribute 50% of revenue from cannabis sales across law enforcement, schools, and prevention efforts in the community, should the town and/or village opt in to marijuana sales.

However, he encouraged the town and village to opt out of cannabis sales and on-site consumption before the end of the year, in favor of analyzing the issue further as a community, since municipalities can always opt back in to sales but cannot opt out beyond Dec. 31.

While no one else in attendance voiced their opinion on cannabis sales and on-site consumption, the town and village will accept community comments on the Cannabis Law for 10 days following the informational meeting via email. That would make the deadline Saturday, Oct. 9. Comments can be sent to Community Development Director Haley Breen at hbreen@northelba.org.

MRTA

Brancatella has worked with the Association of Towns, which provides training and resources for New York’s municipalities, for nearly a decade. She’s one of the association’s attorneys who educate town officials across the state on the MRTA legislation.

The MRTA legalizes recreational cannabis use. It also creates a new area of law called the Cannabis Law, which regulates the use of cannabis in three categories: recreational, medical, and Hemp, or CBD use. The only regulations within the power of local government controls is recreational use, or “adult use,” according to Brancatella.

Brancatella said adult use cannabis is “regulated from soup to nuts” in the Cannabis Law, with multiple kinds of licenses available for uses like cultivating and distributing. But she said in licensing for recreational marijuana, municipalities will only have authority over licenses for retail dispensaries — a “pot store” — and on-site consumption — a “pot bar.”

Brancatella compared retail dispensaries to liquor stores that sell products and consumption sites to bars that sell alcoholic beverages.

These are the two licenses the town and village can opt in or out of distributing. And opting out of one does not have to mean opting out of both; the village or town can choose to opt in to recreational dispensaries but opt out of on-site consumption.

While the meeting was a joint effort of the village and town, the boards don’t have to make a joint decision. The village can opt in to one or both licenses even if the town decides to opt out.

Opting in

If municipalities don’t opt out of recreational cannabis sales and/or on-site consumption sites by Dec. 31, they will automatically be opted in. After Dec. 31, a municipality won’t have the option to opt out.

Brancatella outlined the jurisdiction the municipality would have over the shops, should they appear in the community. But “just because you allow these things to take place in your community doesn’t necessarily mean that they will,” Brancatella said.

If a recreational dispensary or on-site consumption site wants to come to town, the proprietor of the shop would have to submit a notice to the municipality that they are applying for a license for the shop. The town or village clerk would receive that notice between 30 and 270 days before the applicant submits their application to the Cannabis Control Board, the state entity that grants, revokes and limits those licenses as appropriate.

The municipality would have the option to submit an opinion on the applicant, which would appear on their official application record, and the CCB would be required to explain to the municipality how that opinion was considered in the rejection or approval of the application.

If dispensaries and on-site consumption sites do come to the community, municipalities can adopt local laws that place reasonable restrictions on the shops. Any potential local laws would go before the CCB, which would determine if the laws are appropriate and reasonable. Local zoning laws would apply, and the same laws that prohibit establishments that sell alcohol from operating within 500 feet of a school and within 250 feet of a place of worship would apply to establishments that sell recreational cannabis and offer on-site consumption.

Smoking cannabis is prohibited where smoking tobacco is prohibited, but a municipality could present more restrictions to the CCB for approval. For instance, a municipality could request that individuals can’t smoke marijuana on public village or town property, like on sidewalks, according to Brancatella.

There will be a 13% tax on sales of marijuana products, with the state giving a 3% cut to municipalities and a 1% cut to counties that opt in.

Opting out

The last opportunity for municipalities to opt out of recreational dispensaries and/or on-site consumption is Dec. 31. If a municipality doesn’t opt out by then, it will automatically be opted in to adult use cannabis sales and will not have another opportunity to opt out. A municipality can opt back in to adult use cannabis sales even if it opts out this year.

If a municipality decides to opt out, the decision could be subject to a referendum. Residents could submit a petition to force a public vote on the issue, as long as the petition is submitted before the opt-out law goes into effect.

The municipality can also choose to hold a public vote without prompt from a petition, but if a petition is not filed and the municipality doesn’t hold a public vote, the opt-out law will automatically go into effect, according to Brancatella.