Many local governments expected to hesitate on cannabis using local news

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ALBANIA – Local government experts say numerous communities across New York are likely to oppose the state’s new initiative to open marijuana dispensaries.

The state’s marijuana regulation and tax law, which went into effect March 31, provides that local governments can get out of the mix of communities where marijuana stores are opening by December 31.

If municipalities don’t sign out by then, said Peter Baynes, director of the state mayors’ conference, companies can move in as long as they comply with local zoning regulations.

“You have to do it by December 31st or keep your peace,” Baynes said of the communities. You keep the option to later allow the pot shops and consumption lounges.

More than seven months ahead of the deadline, many mayors and other community leaders are taking the time to review their options and weigh the potential negative effects of starting a cannabis business against the potential revenue that could be generated from regulated sales of marijuana products, said Baynes.

“Given the way the state drafted the one-time opt-out law, I suspect that many communities, especially smaller suburban and rural ones, will choose to opt out as some sort of placeholder,” he said ahead .

Those who opt out may later change their minds and join the cannabis program.

“I think there will be a large number of villages and some towns that will choose to log out and sit back and see the new law put in place with no pun intended,” Baynes said.

The Conference of Mayors has published a model decree for rejection on its website: nycom.org/images/documents/cannabis/MRTA_Summary_-_April_15_2021.pdf

Local officials have also raised a number of questions about whether they can regulate marijuana smoking in public spaces, as the law allows individuals to own pots, regardless of whether the community allows cannabis stores or not.

In order to ban marijuana smoking, tobacco products smoking and vaping would also need to be banned, Baynes said.

“Communities cannot split the definition of smoking,” he said. “The state has already anticipated this area.”

The online analysis of the new law published online by the conference provides a breakdown of where marijuana smoking is prohibited. For example, weed smoking is not permitted in workplaces, bars, restaurants, indoor swimming pool areas, public transit terminals, university campuses including dormitories, daycare centers, and youth group homes.

The conference also explains that the law prevents employers from discriminating against people’s marijuana use, although it allows people to be disciplined or fired when other laws or regulations mandate such measures or when the worker is impaired in the workplace.

Patrick Phelan, director of the New York State Association of Police Chiefs, said members of the group had many concerns about the new law. A major concern is enforcing local regulations that limit smoking in public places.

“Some chiefs instruct their officers not to intervene in so-called low-level crimes and not to take proactive enforcement measures,” said Phelan, the former police chief in the Greek suburb of Rochester.

Phelan said he had already reached out to colleagues in Massachusetts, where marijuana sales were legalized in 2018, for information about their police experience.

State law also allows licensing of on-site marijuana consumption lounges. Local governments that decide to ban retail pharmacies can also keep the lounges out but would have to act by December 31st.

A state cannabis control body would be empowered to issue licenses for consumption businesses. The board could consider factors such as traffic impact, parking, and the noise that such businesses would create.

The Cannabis Act lays down the requirements that efforts must be made to support minority and women-owned businesses, distressed farmers, and veterans with disabilities who wish to start regulated businesses.

Joe Mahoney reports on the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach out to him at jmahoney@cnhinews.com