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Divided North Elba board delays cannabis decision

LAKE PLACID — As the deadline approaches for the town of North Elba to decide whether to allow cannabis sales and on-site consumption licenses here, the town council on Tuesday, Oct. 12 delayed making a decision after the council failed to come to a consensus.

When adult recreational marijuana use was legalized in New York on March 31, the state’s cannabis law gave municipalities the opportunity to opt out of allowing dispensaries and/or consumption sites within their limits. Towns, villages and cities have until Dec. 31 to pass a law to opt out of one or both; otherwise, they will automatically be opted in to both.

The town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid boards recently hosted a public information session on the law, and residents had the opportunity to send their opinions and feedback to the town for 10 days following that meeting. But now, some town councilors say they still have more to consider about the community impacts of opting in.

Since the state law was signed, town Supervisor Jay Rand has said that he’s against the sale and consumption of cannabis within town limits. In April, he said he’d “do anything” to “keep (cannabis) out.” On Tuesday, he said he’s in favor of opting out of cannabis sales and consumption sites so the town could “see how things work out a little better.” He said he wanted to consider some unknowns, like how police would enforce intoxicated driving.

Town Councilor Emily Politi disagreed with opting out because she said that many of the unknown factors surrounding cannabis dispensaries and consumption sites would be sorted out and regulated by the Cannabis Control Board.

“In my mind, it’s the same as alcohol. It’s regulated the same — it’s the same,” she said Tuesday. “So why are we trying to say that it’s not the same?”

Town attorney Ron Briggs was present at the meeting, and he suggested that the town collect more data on the widespread impacts of marijuana use across the country, and with younger people, before making a decision.

“The more socially accepted, the more likely young people will use it — and it’s amotivational,” Briggs said.

Politi said there was no data to back that claim up.

Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, 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.

Briggs said he didn’t see harm in looking at the issue for a while longer, but Politi said the town would be missing out on tax revenue during that time. There will be a 13% tax on sales of cannabis products, and the state will give a 3% cut to municipalities and a 1% cut to counties that opt in.

Town Councilor Dick Cummings sided with Politi. He said that if the town opted out of dispensaries, cannabis users would drive to Saranac Lake for their products and redirect that revenue out of the town. He also said that opting in to dispensaries would allow the town to regulate the quality and content of the cannabis sold, which isn’t the case with unregulated marijuana sales.

“And you’re being ID’d,” Politi added. “You’re not being ID’d on the street.”

Town Councilor Derek Doty said he likes that dispensaries are regulated with “eyes” on them. He said that the town can’t bury its head in the sand and hope cannabis will go away.

“It’s here every single day,” he said.

He said he wanted to opt out on consumption sites, but he could go either way on dispensaries. He said he’d rather have some control over cannabis than “leave it open-ended.”

Town Councilor Jack Favro said Wednesday that he’s in favor of opting out for now. He agrees with Rand’s reasoning that there is more information to consider. He said he’s more strongly in favor of opting out of consumption sites.

On Wednesday, Politi said she wishes the board had more public input about consumption sites because she could go either way. However, she said she thought some of her fellow board members were leaning toward opting out of sites, and she said she’d be OK with that.

Rand recommended the board members attend an addiction prevention presentation at the Lake Placid High School auditorium on Thursday to get some more information, though Politi said the content of that presentation would be unrelated to the cannabis law decision.

The board is expected to again discuss the cannabis law decision at their Nov. 9 meeting in the North Elba Town Hall. The public can attend the meeting in person or virtually.