SCHENECTADY — City officials are moving to keep recreational marijuana sales and on-site consumption facilities out of Schenectady.
State legislation approved earlier this year legalized cannabis consumption for adults 21 and over wherever cigarettes can be smoked except while driving.
The law also gives local municipalities until Dec. 31 to decide whether to opt-out of allowing cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption facilities within their borders.
In an 11th-hour decision, council members agreed Monday the city should opt-out. The decision came after a brief public discussion where several expressed a lack of understanding of the state’s Marijuana Regulations and Taxation Act, with one member admitting they learned of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management website — active for months — for the first time earlier in the day.
“We were waiting for the state to nail down their regulations and, frankly, I think we just didn’t stay on top of it as we should have, let me be 100% honest,” Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said following the meeting.
To opt-out, the city will have to pass a local law, which requires holding a public hearing. A timeline for when the hearing will be held was unclear Monday.
“We’re going to do it within the time constraints that we have,” said Andrew Koldin, corporation counsel. “I can’t tell you exactly what that timeline looks like because so much of it is dependent on providing notice to residents and giving people an opportunity to appear and let their voices be heard.”
Municipalities that opt-out of allowing marijuana sales have the option to opt-in at a later date. But those that opt-in cannot back out later.
Porterfield said the council has agreed to take the matter up again in 90 days.
“We thought we needed more time to discuss it and consider all the various implications of it,” she said. “This will give us time without rushing through it and not getting all of the public input and all of the zoning and everything else that needs to be considered.”
Local municipalities that opt-out will not receive a portion of the estimated $350 million in tax revenue cannabis sales are expected to generate.
Under the law, marijuana sales would carry a 13% tax rate, with 9% going directly to the state. The remaining 4% would be divided between counties and local governments based on the proportion of sales.
time to talk
The council had months to decide the future of marijuana sales but did not hold any discussions on the subject until Monday’s committee meeting, where members briefly discussed the subject before moving behind closed doors for an extended executive session.
During the closed-door session, council members heard from Police Chief Eric Clifford, who later said he made it clear that council members should consider the effects marijuana dispensaries may have on neighborhoods.
“I expressed the fact that I felt the council needs to look at many different aspects of it,” he said. “I stressed to them I was not against it. I just want to make sure they consider many things in their deliberations.”
Location, impact on local neighborhoods and hours of operation were among the concerns Clifford said he expressed during the meeting.
Still, he said, he wasn’t against either dispensaries or on-site consumption facilities.
“I’m not against them and I told them (council members) that,” Clifford said. “I think it’s something that they should pursue. It’s just a matter of doing it in the right way; taking their time to thoroughly review everything.”
During the public discussion, Councilman John Polimeni said he was waiting for the state to release additional guidelines to discuss the topic — though the legislation made it clear those guidelines would not be released until sometime next year.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Carmel Patrick said she only learned of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management — the entity that will oversee marijuana regulations — earlier in the day, despite the website being active for months.
She said allowing dispensaries could potentially curtail low-level crime and would provide a financial boost to the city, though other issues needed to be considered as well.
“The sales tax aspect, which I actually found out some more information on that today as well, is part of the decision, but to me not the focus of this discussion,” Patrick said. “I’m more concerned about people and neighborhoods.”
The city will join a growing number of communities throughout the state that have decided to opt-out of allowing marijuana dispensaries and on-site consumption facilities.
In Schenectady County, the towns of Glenville and Niskayuna have already opted out, and Rotterdam is expected to vote on the matter in the near future. Across the border in Saratoga County, the city of Mechanicville and the town of Ballston have also opted out.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.