The deadline for opting out of hosting cannabis dispensaries in New York is December 31, and as the date nears, more than 400 towns and villages across the state have opted to block local cannabis dispensaries and consumption lounges.
Many officials have decided to keep out of the upcoming market until they get more clarity on the regulations.
According to the law that legalized recreational marijuana in March, localities cannot ban legalized possession of cannabis though they can block dispensaries. And 31% of New York’s towns and villages have done that and a higher percentage has chosen to protest against cannabis consumption sites.
Debates between those pointing out the economic benefits of legalization and those opposing the idea had started in March. However, according to an online tracker maintained by the Rockefeller Institute of the Government, none of the state’s larger cities have opted out and the number of cities which have opted out is not high.
According to them, 279 towns and 179 villages have opted out of consumption sites, and 252 towns and 164 villages have opted out of retail dispensaries.
Anita Seefried-Brown of the Watertown-based Alliance for Better Communities, which is focused on reducing underage substance abuse, said the group was concerned that the dispensaries would normalize the use of marijuana more than it already had.
After listening to the speeches of Seefried-Brown and others, residents of Watertown, a city of 25,000 in northern New York, had opted out. Many officials who wanted to opt-out were worried about starting sales before the state Office of Cannabis Management gave clear information about the market.
For example, those in the town of Chautauqua were ready to reconsider once the picture became clearer. Chautauqua Supervisor Donald Emhardt said that they were hesitant to support a program without knowing what exactly the rules regarding it were.
The Office of Cannabis Management will compile information on who has opted out, to let the license applicants know where they can operate and where they cannot. Jeffrey Schultz, an attorney who represents cannabis interests, said that dispensaries could open by the end of 2022, given the time required for adopting regulations and granting licenses, or even earlier, depending on how the state issues licenses.
Freeman Klopott, a spokesperson for the Rockefeller Institute of the Government, expressed hope that some of those who had opted out might join once they were assured of safe, regulated cannabis industry that protected public health and created opportunity. According to him, since they have opted out early, there is time for reconsideration.
In many places, as in the town of Goshen, younger people were seen to be supportive of cannabis sales while older people were not. Both groups were strong adherents to their cause, and, as Al Stauber, mayor of the Village of McGraw in central New York, pointed out, there were not a whole lot of middle-of-the-road people.
When the village board put the issue to a vote last month, the votes were 77:76, with 77 being the number who voted in favor of starting sales. Stauber added that with the easy availability of vacant stores on the Main Street of the village, a new revenue stream that a cannabis store would provide would be welcomed by the locals.
According to Hirsh Jain of the cannabis consultancy Ananda Strategy, in California, 70% of the cities ban retail cannabis businesses.
And according to Mike Cerra, the executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, in New Jersey also, about 70% of the municipalities entirely opted out of allowing different types of cannabis establishments. New York also appears to be following this policy where cannabis dispensaries can’t operate in every town and city.
However, it is possible that in New Jersey too, those towns that had opted out before New Jersey’s August 21 deadline, might have taken a wait-and-see approach to get more details about the regulations. This was corroborated by Mr. Cerra’s statement when he said that some of the towns that had opted out were now in the process of reconsidering.
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