Officials in the Town of Ulster are seeking to establish a legislative framework should they decide to opt out of allowing retail dispensary and on-site cannabis consumption lounges within municipal boundaries following the statewide adoption earlier of the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act.
Councilmen discussed opting out during a meeting of the Town Board held on Thursday, September 2. Town Attorney Jason Kovacs explained that while the New York State Cannabis Board will issue a range of licenses for cultivators, processors and distributors of legal marijuana, municipalities like Ulster have greater local control over retail dispensaries and on-site consumption businesses. Local governments have until December 31 to opt out.
“If the town doesn’t take any action by the end of this year and pass a local law opting out of the scheme [then] the cannabis control board will or may issue licenses for those two types of entities in the Town of Ulster,” Kovacs said.
Kovacs added that opting out would cause the town to forfeit potential sales tax revenue from businesses established within Ulster; the state law includes a 13 percent sales tax on marijuana sales, with four percent split between the county and municipality. He added that not opting out wouldn’t mean the town was powerless about how and where marijuana businesses could exist there.
“Any applicant before the Cannabis Control Board for either the retail dispensary license or the consumption license, they have to notify the town clerk at least 30 days before they applied to the state,” Kovacs said. “It’s very similar to the liquor license application. So the town can give the Cannabis Control Board comments on whether they think the license location is proper, whether it’s a good place, et cetera…”
Rhinebeck opts out
Councilmen in Ulster did not state a preference during the meeting, saying only that it was being discussed to give themselves time to understand what opting out would actually mean. As they continue discussing the issue internally, they may also look across the Hudson River at Rhinebeck, which opted out of allowing both retail dispensaries and lounges during a meeting held on Wednesday, September 1, in part to see how municipalities elsewhere in the state that don’t opt out manage integrating new marijuana businesses into their communities before throwing open their own doors.
While the Rhinebeck Town Board’s vote to opt out of on-site cannabis consumption lounges was unanimous, opting out of dispensaries passed by a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Josh Pulver the lone dissenter. “I’m for it, I don’t want to opt out,” Pulver said. “I think it’s here, it’s legalized, and I just think it’s a lot of legislation to get out (and) to get back in.”
Rhinebeck Supervisor Elizabeth Spinzia said waiting would allow the town more time to see exactly what they’d be getting into and whether a marijuana dispensary or lounge would fit the character of the community should they later decide to opt back in.
“I’m pro-dispensaries, but I don’t know what I’m buying into,” said Spinzia. “I want to see what the authority says and what the laws look like. We don’t allow box stores in Rhinebeck. What if these things can only be 7,000-square feet, concrete built?”
Town Attorney Warren Replansky said that a legal marijuana business might not be a small business. “I can tell you that they are not going to be «ma-and-pa” operations either on the retail or the lounge level,” Replansky said. “It requires a great deal of money and sophistication to apply for these (state) licenses.”
Can still opt back in
As in Rhinebeck, should the Town of Ulster decide to opt out by December 31 they can later opt back in. The reverse, however, is not the case.
“If we do not opt out by the end of this year, we cannot opt out at any point in the future,” said Kovacs. “We are locked in to these licenses, absent a change in the state law. Uh, if we do opt out and we decide two years from now we do want these entities or venues in the town, we can pass a local law to opt back in.”
Should the Town of Ulster decide to opt out they would need to hold a public hearing on the law, and after a 30-day period they could vote to enact either or both laws.