CLIFTON PARK -- In an effort to plan for the possible legalization of recreational marijuana in New York state, the town has established a Marijuana Policy Review Committee.
The Town Board approved the formation of the committee at its Monday meeting. Members will include the Town Board, Matthew Miles of Ellis Medical Group, former county coroner and police officer Dan Kuhn, Craig Chandler, an assistant class principal at Shenendehowa High School, Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, Saratoga County Sheriff Mike Zurlo, Clifton Park Youth Court leaders Peyton Gouzien and Jess Farrioli, and Patti Donovan, a former investigator for the New York State Police in Clifton Park.
The committee will examine the potential effects of legal marijuana on the town and provide input on zoning regulations that would cover marijuana dispensaries.
The issue of legalizing recreational marijuana has been a hot topic since January, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State address, laid out his vision for legalization of recreational marijuana, which included a plan that would allow counties and large cities to ban recreational pot shops within their borders.
The proposal has yet to be voted on by the state Legislature, and with less than 10 days remaining in the legislative session, it is unclear if legalization will move forward.
Barrett said that while an opt-out option has not been discussed publicly at the county Board of Supervisors, Clifton Park has been preparing for the impact of both medical and recreational marijuana for a few years.
In 2015, it adjusted zoning laws to determine the most advantageous locations for medical marijuana dispensaries. During that process, Barrett said he knew it was a matter of when, not if, recreational marijuana was also legalized, a statement which he reiterated at the meeting.
“We figured that legalization was only a few years away and here we are, a few years a way, and they’re talking very seriously about it,” he said.
Areas directly adjacent to I-87 were designated by the town as places where medical dispensaries could operate.
Specifically, spots directly north and south of the intersection of routes 9 and 146 were tapped as close enough to the highway for people to stop in, get what they need and get back on the highway, if traveling from a neighboring municipality.
On Tuesday, town Planning Director John Scavo said it was early to guess how zoning would be affected if recreational marijuana is legalized.
Barrett said that when recreational marijuana is legalized, it would most likely be easy for medical dispensaries to move to standard dispensaries, similar to marijuana dispensaries that exist in some other states.
The committee is the result of an effort to pull in perspectives from a variety of people who could offer a unique perspective from groups that would be affected by legalization, including law enforcement agencies and students, town officials said.
Sheriff Zurlo said the town approached him with the request to serve on the committee about six weeks ago.
He plans to provide input to the committee from a law enforcement perspective, he said, noting that he has in the past been vocal about the risks that come with legalizing recreational marijuana, particularly the public safety risks.
“I’ve been very vocal about the drugged driving, and what marijuana is going to do,” Zurlo said. “Is the crime rate going to go up? Will black market sales be affected?”
A representative from Heggen’s office did not return a request for comment on her involvement with the committee.
The committee meetings will be public, Barrett said. The first meeting will be held “in the near future,” and a date will be announced. The public will have the opportunity to provide input to the committee, he said.
The committee's actions will serve as preparation, but will also depend largely on what eventual legislation looks like, and how the county proceeds. The town, unless the county opts out of allowing recreational marijuana, cannot ban dispensaries outright.
"The town cannot ban that activity or sale, however, we can regulate where that activity or item can be sold," Barrett said. "But it's only a matter of time, so why wait at this point? We're going to move forward and make sure that we're prepared."