Deadline approaching for marijuana choice
FINGER LAKES--Towns and villages across the Finger Lakes have until Dec. 31 to grapple with the issue of whether or not they would like to allow the sale of marijuana within their municipality. To help make their decision some villages, like Penn Yan and Odessa, have held meetings to gauge what the public's opinion on the matter is.
"We definitely got a very varied set of arguments," said Mayor Leigh MacKerchar of the Tuesday, Sept. 21 public hearing. "Pros and cons, reasons why we should and reasons why we shouldn't. It was quite well attended, and people brought up a lot of good points."
MacKerchar said that 42 people attended the public hearing and it was informative to the local officials. While many boards throughout the area are determining where they stand, it doesn't stop the fact that there is a ticking clock in the matter. If a municipality doesn't deny the existence of marijuana dispensaries by Dec. 31 of this year it will automatically be allowed.
A board voting to not allow a dispensary to sell marijuana within the municipality is also not the end of the matter. Voters or an individual board member has the ability to petition for a local referendum. If a referendum is called, voters could overturn a previous decision.
Within the region, Odessa has already stated their intention to opt-out before the Dec. 31 deadline and to hold a public vote on the issue in March.
However, according to local officials, one common theme throughout the state has been general misconceptions about what a municipality can and can not do regarding marijuana regulations.
The state rules say, "Cities, towns, and villages can opt-out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses from locating within their jurisdictions. Municipalities cannot opt-out of adult-use legalization. Adult-use cannabis possession and use by adults 21 years of age or older in accordance with the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), is legal in New York state."
The recent Penn Yan meeting demonstrated this difference between what citizens think government can do and what it actually has authority to legislate.
"I think there was some misconception, some people were dead-set against the legalization or use of marijuana," said MacKerchar. "That issue the state has already taken care of. (Locally) we have three things to consider, opting out of retail outlets, on what premises use is allowed and if we do opt-in to have those facilities controlling the locations with zoning."
According to the state law, locations for dispensaries are already limited to not be within 500 feet of a school or 200 feet of a house of worship. The sale of alcohol at dispensaries will also be prohibited.
Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk said the board is currently considering whether or not to allow the sale and cautioned that no decision has been made yet.
"(The board) wants to hear from the public on this but we haven't addressed it yet," Leszyk said. "In the near future this will be coming up."
Under the current state laws, adults over 21 can possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of concentrated cannabis (like vaporization oil or an edible). Adults may possess up to five pounds of cannabis at their personal residence or grounds.
"The thing that people don't understand is that marijuana use and possession is legal in New York," said MacKerchar, noting he is only talking about his personal feelings. "It's here and we have to deal with it by doing nothing or doing something. I think allowing retail is something we should entertain, I don't think opting out is a good way to go. With zoning regulations we can limit locations and control it that way."
The MRTA establishes three taxes on adult-use cannabis. There is a tax imposed at the distributor tier based on the milligrams of total THC in the cannabis product. There are different rates of tax depending on the cannabis product form.
• Edibles (e.g. food and beverages) are taxed at $0.03 per mg of THC
• Concentrates (e.g. vaporization oil, wax, shatter, and resin) are taxed at $0.008 per mg of THC
• Cannabis flower (e.g. loose flower, pre-rolls, or shake) are taxed at $.005 per mg THC.
On the retail sale to the consumer, there are two taxes:
• 9 percent state excise tax
• 4 percent local excise tax
These taxes do not apply to medical cannabis.
All cannabis taxes would be deposited in the New York state cannabis revenue fund. Revenue covers reasonable costs to administer the program and implement the law. The remaining funding would be split three ways:
• 40 percent to education
• 40 percent to Community Grants Reinvestment Fund
• 20 percent to Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund.