ROTTERDAM — With the first legal cannabis sales in New York just hours away, the Rotterdam Town Board on Wednesday unanimously approved a local law that would restrict where in town marijuana dispensaries and on-site consumption facilities can operate.
The 4-0 vote followed weeks of input from residents, who were divided about the future of marijuana sales in town in the runup to the first dispensary sales in New York after state lawmakers last year voted to legalize cannabis for adult-use.
“My feelings is we had nothing in our code before because we didn’t have cannabis; we didn’t have legalized marijuana,” said Supervisor Mollie Collins after the vote. “At least this is a foundation; it gives us something to go by.”
Board member Samantha Miller-Herrera was not in attendance for the vote.
Retail marijuana sales officially began in New York City on Thursday after Housing Works, a minority-controlled nonprofit that provides services to those with HIV and AIDS, was awarded one of 36 conditional adult-use retail dispensary licenses handed out by the state in November.
The special licenses were designed to give people with prior marijuana-related convictions and nonprofits the first opportunity at the legal marijuana market. Formal regulations for regular dispensary licenses are expected to be adopted next year.
Gov. Kathy Hochul lauded the sales as a “historic milestone in New York’s cannabis industry” in a statement released through her office Thursday.
“Today is only the beginning, and I look forward to continuing our efforts to solidify New York as a national model for the safe, equitable and inclusive industry we are now building,” she said.
But some residents have expressed concerns about the impact marijuana sales would have on children of Rotterdam, including officials from the Mohonasen Central School District, who urged lawmakers last year to opt out of allowing the sales and have more recently requested that cannabis-related businesses be situated as far from schools as possible.
Under the town law, dispensaries will be permitted only in the town’s general business and light and heavy industrial zoning districts, while on-site consumption facilities will only be allowed to operate in the light and heavy industrial zones. Both require a special-use permit from the town’s Planning Commission.
Cannabis-related businesses also will not be permitted to operate within 500 feet of a school building and 250 feet from a place of worship, parameters that are also laid out under the state law. The businesses also will need to prove they have adequate parking and pedestrian access and show that odors would be contained on site.
Hours of operation for both businesses would be limited to between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and between noon and 6 p.m. on Sundays.
“If anybody has an issue with this law, they should take it up at the state level, they’re the ones who opened up this Pandora’s box,” said board member Evan Christou.
Christou was part of the previous administration last year that decided to allow cannabis-related businesses to set up shop in town instead of opting out — a move residents pushed for due to a lack of state regulations.
Hundreds of municipalities opted out, including nearby Glenville, Niskayuna and Clifton Park. Those that opted out have the ability to opt in at a later date, but there is no recourse to opt out once a municipality choses to allow the dispensary sales.
Christou defended the previous administration’s stance, citing the potential for new tax revenue. He also noted that the law could be amended at a later date if issues arise.
Municipalities that opted out of allowing retail cannabis sales are excluded from collecting a portion of a 4% local excise tax that would be split with the county and municipalities with dispensaries based on a proportion of sales.
“Previously I felt that we should have an opportunity to secure some of that revenue,” he said.
But others on the board expressed concerns, including Joseph Mastroianni, who said he worries that marijuana could end up in the hands of students. Still, he hopes having regulated cannabis industry will curtail black market sales.
“I think it’s better that it’s regulated,” he said. “But we as a board — we don’t want to see Rotterdam turn into a den of iniquity. We want to still maintain the character of a bedroom community.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.