Montgomery County

Fultonville passes local law opting out of retail pot, schedules public hearing afterwards

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FULTONVILLE — The Board of Trustees has scheduled a public hearing next week on a local law after it was approved last month opting out of retail cannabis dispensaries and consumption sites. State law requires public hearings to be held prior to adoption of local laws.

Mayor Linda Petterson-Law explained on Thursday that the board during its regular meeting last month unanimously approved a local law to opt-out of recreational marijuana dispensaries and consumption sites before the Dec. 31 deadline set by the state.

To beat the looming deadline, the board scheduled the public hearing on the legislation after its adoption for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. before the regular monthly meeting at 6 p.m.

“Because we were so late, that’s the reason we are holding our public hearing as soon as possible,” Peterson-Law said.

The state law legalizing recreational marijuana use and sales signed in March provided municipalities until the end of 2021 to opt-out and prohibit the establishment of retail sites within their borders. Although communities cannot opt-out of recreational marijuana now that the deadline has passed, state law allows communities to reverse course to opt-in at any time.

After the Glen Town Board approved a local law opting out of marijuana dispensaries and consumption sites in September, Petterson-Law said village officials were under the impression that action applied to Fultonville by extension. The village is located within the town of Glen.

When officials learned that was not the case, Peterson-Law said there was limited time to make a decision on whether the village should opt-out.

“I think there was some confusion among the board members that if the town opted out, which they did, then it covered our municipality,” Peterson-Law said. “But as it got to the end of the year, as I did more research on it, I found that was not true, so we had to take action.”

The board had not discussed marijuana legalization at any point over the last year and had not heard from residents whether they favor or oppose pot retailers and lounges setting up shop in the village. Officials decided to take action to preserve their options and subsequently gather input from residents.

“We wanted to be able to have a choice,” Peterson-Law said. “That’s the only reason we took the action we did.”

Peterson-Law hasn’t made up her mind on whether cannabis should be allowed in the village and indicated the board would consider rescinding the local law opting out of retail sites if residents turn out to support permitting marijuana sites.

“I’m not against it, but I’m not really for it either. I have to do a little more research on it, hear from our residents and then make a final determination,” Peterson-Law said.

Trustee Steve Helmin agreed that taking the step of adopting a local law prior to the public hearing was intended only to preserve the village’s options before making a final decision after hearing from residents.

“It was primarily the constraint that it had to be done by Dec. 31,” Helmin said. “It was made very clear we could opt back in at any time, that’s why we moved. Several of us felt this was a way to go ahead and have a public hearing as soon as possible to get input from our constituents.”

Similar to the mayor, Helmin indicated he is undecided on whether marijuana shops should be allowed in the village and wants to hear what residents think.

“At this point, I’m really interested in hearing what people have to say,” Helmin said. “Hopefully we get a good chunk of the public to come and share their thoughts. I’ve always said for all of us, it’s our government and if you have an opinion, you should make it heard.”

Although officials said the steps to adopt the local law were only taken out of order to protect the village’s decision on marijuana and allow residents to be heard, the fact that the public hearing was not held before the local law was passed may invalidate the legislation under state law.

Home Rule Law requires proposed local laws to be formally introduced to the governing municipal body before a public hearing is scheduled and notices published at least five days in advance. The local law cannot be adopted until after the public hearing has been held.

Following approval, local laws must be filed with the state Office of the Secretary of State within 20 days and do not become effective until they have been filed.

Requirements for the adoption of local laws published by the state Department of State Division of Local Government Services note, “omission or failure to observe these technicalities may embarrass local officials, delay the effective date of the local law and render the local law invalid.”

The local law adopted by the village board was filed with the state on Dec. 31. However, the documents available online state that the local law was passed “in accordance with the applicable provisions of law.”

If the departure from the required procedure leads the local law approved by the Board of Trustees to be invalidated, the village would most likely be unable to take further action to opt-out of cannabis sale and consumption sites now that the state’s deadline has passed.

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

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