Ulster town board allows cannabis shops but not smoking lounges

The Ulster Town Board last week voted to allow cannabis retail operations within its borders but to opt out of on-site consumption lounges. 

In voting to allow retail businesses, councilmen amended municipal zoning codes to keep them within highway commercial (HC) and regional commercial (RC) districts. Also included in the local law is a framework for acceptable opening hours for cannabis retail, which will only be allowed to open between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. The law also restricts cannabis dispensaries from operating within 1500 feet of one another. 

Other restrictions “include distances from schools, distances from churches, et cetera, et cetera, as well as the facility applying for the use must maintain a legal license from the state of New York to maintain a retail dispensary,” said Town Supervisor James E. Quigley III during the Town Board meeting held on Thursday, December 2. 


The zoning modifications relating to allowing cannabis retail operations passed unanimously. A vote opting out of on-site cannabis consumption lounges passed 4-1, with Councilman Clayton VanKleeck voting no. 

During a Town Board meeting held in late November, VanKleeck said there were many unanswered questions about cannabis consumption lounges. “We’re standing at the bottom of a waterfall trying to regulate the water but we can’t,” he said. “We can only regulate what’s happening around us. We’re trying to figure out whether something like a lounge is known to be harmful to a community…or whether it’s better to have a spot where it’s consumed.”

While the board’s vote will not allow cannabis consumption lounges in the immediate future, the decision to opt out gave them the flexibility to potentially accept them in the future. According to the New York State Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, opting in would be irreversible. 

Council members also discussed but did not vote on a proposed law relating to amending zoning code to regulate where on-site cannabis consumption operations might take place. The proposed legislation as written includes similar regulations to those passed for retail dispensaries. 

“This is a presentation of a modification to the town zoning code that sets forth the acceptable zoning districts and the explicit conditions on a site within those zoning districts, where onsite consumption would be allowed under the town zoning code,” Quigley said. “This is presented tonight, introduced into the legislative process for the purposes of moving it through the process and calling for a motion at the next meeting to have a public hearing on said law. This law in no way represents the opinion of the Town of Ulster Town Board on whether the town is opting in or opting out on the on-site consumption of cannabis within the town.”

As of last week, town officials said they still haven’t received enough information from the state to objectively decide whether to allow on-site cannabis consumption; by opting out, they said they’re essentially holding off on a final determination as well as giving themselves more time to establish zoning regulations. 

“I think that the New York state has not outlined or put any details into any of this on-site consumption yet,” said Deputy Supervisor John Morrow. “So we, the town, really has no guidelines to follow…We can’t really in good conscience vote for something we don’t know what it is. We have no idea what the state regulations are regarding this.”

Quigley said the Town Board could revisit the issue once they feel they’ve received enough information about cannabis consumption lounges to make a clearer determination. “Should the town board in six months receive from the (New York State) Cannabis Control Board satisfactory rules and regulations on the operation of said facility, there is nothing that prevents us from reversing course and opting back in within six months of passing this opt-out,” Quigley said. 

The issues were first discussed by councilmen during a Town Board meeting held on Thursday, September 2. Town Attorney Jason Kovacs explained that while the 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 and the cannabis control board will or may issue licenses for those two types of entities in the Town of Ulster,” Kovacs said in September. 

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…”

As of the December 2 Town Board meeting, no applications have been submitted to the state Cannabis Control Board for retail or consumption businesses in the Town of Ulster.