CAPITAL REGION — Using a pun that appeared intentional, Clifton Park Town Supervisor Philip Barrett referred to businesses where cannabis can be consumed as “marijuana hangout joints.”
Regardless of what they’re called – oftentimes cannabis lounges – Barrett said he’s dead set against them situating in Clifton Park, which will hold a public hearing on whether to opt-out at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act that was signed into law by then Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March legalized personal possession of up to three ounces of cannabis flower for people 21 and older, and offers municipalities across the state the opportunity to opt-out of licensing both cannabis lounges and pot shops where customers can make grab-and-go purchases.
The law establishes a 13% tax on adult-use marijuana sales, 4% of which is split between municipalities and their counties.
Barrett said Clifton Park isn’t against retail sales, but he said the town isn’t likely to experience financial gains of any consequence from them.
Meanwhile, cities, towns and villages in New York will automatically have opted into the retail marijuana marketplace if no decision is made to opt out by Dec. 31.
If a community opts out, the action is subject to a permissive referendum, allowing residents 45 days to gather signatures to petition a vote on pot sales.
David Holland, executive and legal director of the Empire State National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the procession of communities that are opting out of hosting marijuana businesses are fueled by concerns that emanated from what he said was prohibitionist propaganda of decades past.
In Saratoga County, the town of Ballston and the city of Mechanicville have already opted out of marijuana sales, and last week, on the night before Thanksgiving, the town of Milton opted out of cannabis lounges but opted into retail sales.
The village of Ballston Spa’s board of trustees, by a straw poll, have opted in.
A pair of Schenectady County communities in proximity to Saratoga County – Glenville has opted out of marijuana dispensaries and lounges, and Niskayuna opted out of marijuana dispensaries.
Cities, towns and villages may be opting out preemptively because of a lack of guidance from the state, according to an analysis written in late October by Heather Trela, director of operations and fellow at the Rockefeller Institute of Government.
Trela wrote of the decided uptick in the number of towns, cities, and villages scheduling public hearings on the issue in November and December.
The Clifton Park supervisor, who has spoken of marijuana as a gateway drug, said it’s important to analyze the potential economics of marijuana sales against negative and positive elements for an individual municipality.
“I think, too often, the economics are held up as being something that is going to have a significant impact on municipalities, and we see far too often the promises of riches from some of these programs that the state enacts don’t live up to the hype – and in many circumstances leave us all with buyer’s remorse,” Barrett said.
The present market value of all properties in Clifton Park is $5.5 billion, Barrett said.
“The town, specifically the Exit 9 area (of Interstate 87), has grown significantly in the last 20 years,” Barrett said. “And we’ve also worked hard to diversify the businesses that are operating within the town.”
“It’s important to be realistic about the current size and scope of our economy in Clifton Park, and what the effect of the possibility of a couple of marijuana shops operating in the town would be,” he said. “I don’t even think it would register; it would be so minimal.”
Barrett went on to call it unfortunate that so much of the economic development planning for New York state in recent years has seemingly centered around pot and casinos.
“Not only do I think that’s a negative trend for our state as a whole, but if pot and casinos are being sold as an important piece of an economic development plan, the people selling that notion, I think, have either run out of ideas or have much larger issues to contend with,” Barrett said.
But Holland, of the advocacy group NORML, said it’s important to consider the optics of a community’s political leader expressing a desire to opt-out.
“If a community opts out, that’s their choice, and I do understand that from a municipal leader’s position, it’s easier to opt-out and be overridden by a popular vote in the community than it is to be the bad guy who says let’s just do this,” Holland said.
“But that said, there are some progressive and more enlightened views that have come to the table earlier, that talk about what this could mean for a community – that this has some benefits to it, rather than all the fears and the harms. All we can do in the advocacy world is separate the facts from the fears.”
Holland denounced the theory of marijuana as a gateway to harder drugs, or that it is damaging to teenagers.
“It sounds good,” he said. “It’s easy to remember. It brings horror and fright to lots of communities. But most of those theories have been debunked by the government itself who put them out.”
“The DEA has actually acknowledged that there was no statistical basis that marijuana ever led to harder drugs,” he said.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.