NY cities grappling with marijuana opt-out decisions

Many New Yorkers think it is high-time for marijuana sales to start up, but some towns and villages are still grappling with this decision.

Council members in Colonie, a town in the Capital Region, have voted to ban marijuana consumption sites within their district. Marijuana consumption sites are smoking lounges, cannabis cafes and other businesses that allow for cannabis to be consumed on premises.

Melissa Jeffers, a Colonie town councilwoman, says this vote mainly boiled down to concern that people might smoke at one of these consumption sites and then drive home.  

“Without having appropriate mechanisms to test an individual’s level, like with drinking while driving we have breathalyzers, we just don’t have that technology,” Jeffers explained. “And it’s a lot of pressure to put on our law enforcement.”

Local government officials have until Dec. 31 to decide if they want consumption sites or recreational marijuana retail stores within their town limits.

And there are quite a few that are choosing to opt out or will be voting soon on the issue.

Numerous Republican lawmakers are in favor of extending the deadline, including Assemblyman Josh Jensen.  

Jensen questioned how localities are expected to make a decision without knowing what sort of regulations will be in place.

“I’m concerned that in typical New York state fashion, we’re going to have the Control Board set up, they’re going to determine all these regulations that are going to be done in secret, without public buy in, without the public being involved,” Jensen said. “Then it’s going to be presented and we’re going to have to take time to figure out what those things are.”

But setting up New York’s marijuana industry has been a slow-moving process and sales are still not expected until most likely 2022.

Assemblyman John McDonald says he would worry that pushing back the deadline would also delay the launch of the weed market in the state.  

“I don’t know if delaying it will do us any good because, quite frankly, I think that slows down the process,” McDonald said. “The reality is, the legislature, with the support of the public, has made a very informed decision that adult use marijuana is something we want to see in New York state.”

Colonie will still allow for recreational retail stores within town limits.

And towns that opt out now on fully participating in the retail market still have a chance to opt back in at any time.

Voters can also petition the town’s decision and move the matter to the ballot at the next general election.

Jeffers says, for now, they want to see how things progress with the industry and would consider coming back to this issue in the future.

“We’re going to have to take a look at some of our zoning and variance laws, there’s going to be a lot of technicalities to actually get this process rolled out,” Jeffers explained. “So I think once that guidance starts coming down from New York State, we’ll be able to take a closer and more effective look at what that could look like if it was allowed and maybe make a decision at that time.”

No matter what a town decides, New Yorkers over the age of 21 will still have the right to possess and consume cannabis.

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