Altamont trustees say ‘no’ for now to pot shops

ALTAMONT — Expressing concern with the near-nonexistence of state guidance on the issue, the Altamont Board of Trustees at its monthly meeting unanimously approved a law that prohibits retail marijuana dispensaries from setting up shop in the village. 

The new local law is subject to a permissive referendum, meaning a petition can be submitted to the board requesting the issue be put to the voters in a special election.

The state’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act of 2021, signed into law in March, made recreational marijuana use legal for people 21 and older in New York State, while its sale will be permitted once rules are established. But, even in the absence of state regulation on the matter, municipalities were still given only until Dec. 31 to opt out of allowing retail dispensaries or licenses for on-site consumption. 

“So, if you don’t take any action to opt out, then you’re basically allowing the state to process and issue licenses for these types of facilities within your jurisdiction,” Allyson Phillips, the village’s attorney, explained during the Oct. 5 meeting. “You do have the option, though, to opt out. Which is essentially asking the state Cannabis Control Board not to issue licenses for either on-site consumption facilities or retail dispensaries within your jurisdiction.”

Mayor Kerry Dineen said, “I’d just add that opting out allows us to opt in later.”

Oct. 5 also acted as a public hearing on the now-adopted local law. 

James Sullivan, a Main Street resident who made an unsuccessful run for village board in 2019, asked if by opting-out the village would be losing out on any revenue that would come from retail sales of marijauna. “Are we also opting out of having a seat at the table to develop those rules?” he asked.

The new state law imposes a point-of-sale retail tax of 9 percent for the state and a 4-percent local tax — 1 percent is retained by the county and 3 percent goes to the municipality where the dispensary is located. 

Sullivan said the industry should be embraced “with open arms.”

He said he couldn’t “think of another retail business where we would say, ‘No I don’t want this legal activity and commerce and tax revenue here.’”

Sullivan also said that “anecdotal reports” show people who frequent retail dispensaries share similar demographics with the attendees of the Oct. 5 board of trustees meeting: “moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas.”

The “doom and gloom prophecies” made by the opponents of legal marijuana have not been borne out in the communities that “have been on the forefront of this,” he said. 

Sullivan pointed to research from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, “which isn’t exactly a liberal hippie group,” that said home values in places that allow dispensaries increased by an average of $22,000 in comparison to places where marijauna was legalized that did not allow for its retail distribution. 

Allowing retail dispensaries doesn’t promote increased use of drugs and alcohol among the young, Sullivan said, “definitely concern among parents,” whereas the same could not be said for areas with tobacco and liquor stores.

Kate Provencher, a zoning board member, asked, “Why would we opt out? I’m just curious about the reasoning for that, if it’s a legal business. We haven’t opted out of having alcohol establishments or smok[ing] cigarettes or any of those, or lottery tickets for that matter. So I’m curious about why we would do that?”

Trustee Nicholas Fahrenkopf fielded Provencher’s question, while also thanking Sullivan and another resident, Mike Martin, who echoed a similar sentiment, for their comments, saying he didn’t “necessarily disagree with any of them.” 

Fahrenkopf said his concerns weren’t so much with problems the industry itself might bring; rather, it was “more of the chaos from the state of New York and how they’re implementing these rules.”

He said only in the month since the board of trustees last met had “they appointed anybody to the Cannabis Control Board, so they haven’t even really started doing their work.”

Fahrenkopf said he’d like to see what rules are actually put in place before a decision is made about what’s best for Altamont. He concluded by asking the meeting attendees to, “Please bug us again, come back in a couple months and ask what have we done, or shoot us an email … I think we should follow up and keep on this.”

Dineen followed Fahrenkopf by noting that, because of Altamont’s small size, its zoning code has “more of an impact directly on us because there’s not that many of us here.” Having the opportunity to develop and implement necessary regulations is important, the mayor said, while addressing part of Provencher’s question, adding there are state boards already in place to oversee and regulate the liquor and lottery trade.

But, when it comes to marijuana, she said, “Right now, there isn’t anything.”

None of the trustees came out against pot shops in the village, stating they concurred, to one degree or another, with what Sullivan and Martin had said about the issue. But there was unanimous consensus that a better framework needs to be in place before that could happen.

Phillips said the state will be putting out rules “to guide their decision-making in issuing licenses.” But the statute already in place makes it “very clear” that local municipalities through their zoning laws will still have the ability to regulate things like where retail dispensaries can be located and what times they are allowed to operate.

Provencher said, with the board expressing interest in wanting to get out in front of the issue, wouldn’t it be beneficial to start some kind of working group to explore “what we would want locally.” That way, when the state does put out rules, “we could move quickly, rather than waiting ….”

Dineen said she “would be totally in favor of that.”

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