The Town Board approved a resolution imposing a 30-day moratorium on the installation or consideration of recreational marijuana dispensaries or cannabis consumption sites by a 3-1 vote Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the state legalized adult-use marijuana.
The state Senate and Assembly approved legislation allowing the sale of recreational marijuana to adults 21 and older and setting up a licensing process for the delivery of cannabis products late Tuesday, which was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday morning. The legislation includes provisions related to growing marijuana plants and allows municipalities to opt out of retail sales.
Town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza originally called Wednesday’s special board meeting to introduce a resolution opting out of retail sales of marijuana, but that action will require the adoption of a local law subject to a public hearing.
The board scheduled a hearing for the next regular meeting on April 28 at 6:55 p.m.
The moratorium gives the Town Board time to take the procedural steps necessary to properly use the opt-out crafted into the law.
DiMezza said swift action is necessary to shut the door locally before prospective sellers can act on the new state law.
“We already had someone put a permit in today for a dispensary,” DiMezza said. “That will be denied because it was put in today and we adopted the resolution tonight. But I can probably see more coming if we don’t do something, and rather than waiting for all of these permits to come in and everything else, let’s get in front of the curve and take care of these matters.”
The current moratorium applies only to retail dispensaries and on-site consumption licenses, despite DiMezza’s original intent to include provisions blocking farms from growing recreational marijuana for distribution.
Town Attorney Charles Schwartz said opt-out provisions for municipalities spelled out in the bill seemingly only encompass cannabis sale and consumption sites, forcing the town to drop the ban on growers from the moratorium.
DiMezza said town officials will review the state legislation further and seek advice from the Association of Towns in an effort to block potential grow operations from setting up in town.
The town has already experienced odor issues related to a state authorized hemp farm located less than a mile from the Town Office Building, DiMezza said. The odor permeated the building when the crop was harvested last summer and elicited complaints from area residents, he said.
DiMezza says allowing recreational marijuana sales or production within the town would be harmful to the character of the “bedroom community,” highlighting long lines at dispensaries in Massachusetts following the legalization of cannabis.
“I wouldn’t want those people in my town,” DiMezza said.
Town Board member Mary Maines rejected the application of that characterization to all dispensaries, pointing to upscale facilities in Vermont and Colorado that attract the same customers that might be seen at any other high-end retailer.
“You can’t say that every single person that’s going to be going in our town is going to be a seedy character,” Maines said.
“Maybe not, but I don’t think it falls within the character of our town,” DiMezza responded. “I don’t think the people in our town want to see this.”
Three town residents backed up DiMezza’s claim, each voicing support for the moratorium and plans for the town to opt out of the state law when the floor was opened for public comment.
“Our community does not need distribution and marketing of cannabis, and as a healthcare provider I don’t see that as a characteristic that we wish to promote in out town,” said Dr. Nancy Knudsen, an internist in Amsterdam.
Another resident pointed to unfulfilled claims surrounding projected revenues touted by the state when voters were asked by referendum in 2013 whether casino gambling should be expanded, suggesting the anticipated financial boon from legalizing recreational marijuana may go up in smoke while harming the character of local communities.
Maines is unconvinced and said the town should not intentionally opt out of an opportunity to raise revenues in the town where DiMezza has floated the idea of introducing a highway tax in the future to generate funds.
“I don’t want to all of a sudden say to the community we’re going to raise your taxes because we’re going to have a highway tax, when we rejected another way to generate revenue for our town,” Maines said.
Yet, DiMezza says the town will not lose out on the potential to garner revenue from recreational marijuana sales by opting out of the state legislation, noting that sales tax revenues are shared between Montgomery County and its cities, towns and villages.
“I don’t care what happens, we don’t need it in the town of Amsterdam,” DiMezza added.
The Town Board approved the moratorium 3-1, with Maines casting the lone vote against it. Town Board member Deborah Tessiero was absent from the special meeting.
Although he voted to support the moratorium, Deputy Supervisor David Thibodeau said he would like to hear from more residents before voting on the proposed local law to opt out of the state legislation next month.
“When we do have the public hearing I hope some people show up and give us their opinions. We’ve had some opinions here tonight, but if you’re concerned, show up,” Thibodeau said.
Maines anticipates the town will hear from residents who support legalized marijuana sales and said she plans to oppose the local law.
“I would like to opt in, not opt out,” Maines said.