Penn Yan 'opts in' on cannabis sales; opt-out resolution dies

John Christensen
The Chronicle Express

Resolution for Penn Yan to opt out on allowing cannabis sales died after the motion to introduce it for discussion failed to get a second.

Penn Yan's Village Hall was filled to capacity with residents wanting to hear and be heard on the issue of cannabis/marijuana sales and consumption within the village.

PENN YAN — After last month's public hearing at the Penn Yan Village Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday, Sept. 21 when the board heard comments from a capacity crowd on whether cannabis sales and use should be restricted or regulated in the Village, the board heard a proposed resolution on a local law to "opt out" as permitted in the state legislation for towns, villages, and cities. At that meeting, public opinion appeared to be evenly and sharply divided on the issue.

In the notice for the public hearing, Village Clerk/Treasurer Gary Meeks listed six potential issues:

1. Whether to prohibit sales and on-site consumption establishments in the Village (so called "Opting Out")

2. If not prohibiting such sales and on-site consumption establishments in the Village, whether to restrict them to certain zoning districts of the Village

3. Whether to prohibit cannabis smoking in Village parks and playgrounds for the protection of non-cannabis smokers, including children

4. Whether to prohibit cannabis smoking on Village streets and sidewalks for the protection of non-cannabis smokers, including children

5. Whether to prohibit all smoking in Village parks and playgrounds for the protection of non-cannabis smokers, including children

6. Whether to prohibit all smoking on Village Streets and sidewalks; for the protection of non-cannabis smokers, including children.

At the Oct. 19 meeting, the following motion was on the agenda:

MOTION to authorize Resolution No 70-2021 Addressing SEQR Matters and Setting a Public Hearing with Respect to the Proposed Local Law “Opting Out of the 2021 New York State Cannabis Law.” Set a Public Hearing for November 16, 2021 at 6:10 p.m.

Mayor Leigh MacKerchar explained for the record last month's public hearing when the the board was asked why the voters couldn't decide. Village Attorney Edward Brockman said he attended a conference where a procedure was described in which municipalities can opt out and call for a referendum. MacKerchar  explained this could be held in conjunction with village elections in March, giving the board ample time to look at the pro and cons. Brockman said the state does not usually permit the public to make these decisions, but when they adopted the new cannabis law and allowed the opt-out, legislators included a provision allowing municipalities to call for a referendum  for the people to decide the issue directly.

If the board voted in favor of the resolution, another public hearing would be held at the Nov. 16 board meeting before it could be voted into law. According to Brockman, the Board of Elections would chargev$3,000 to hold the referendum.  As a zoning issue, it would also be referred to the Yates County Planning Board, which would have 30 days to act on it and the board  could adopt the local law at the Dec. 21 meeting. Then in January, the board would adopt a resolution calling for a referendum for the March elections. 

Brockman reminded the board and public there are two aspects to the opt-out: 1. retail sales establishments. 2. on-site consumption establishments. If the village were to have a referendum, it would be on the back of the March ballot as two separate items to vote on. He said that the current law does not allow both at the same establishment, but has nothing to do with whether marijuana and cannabis products are legal.  

After all this explanation of Brockman's plan for the Village, Trustee Ray Spencer made a motion in order for the board to enter the discussion.  That motion was met by silence. MacKerchar asked for a second multiple times, but the silence, described by some as "extremely awkward," continued. "We're not going to discuss this?" asked MacKerchar, but the motion remained un-seconded by any member of the board. As a result, no action was taken on Resolution No 70-2021. Therefore, Penn Yan "opts in" on cannabis sales.

Other municipalities

The towns and villages of Yates County have all been in similar discussions, with some having already decided. Even if they decide to not opt out, they still retain the power to establish local restriction codes regarding locations and times for sales and consumption.

TOWNS

Barrington - opted in.

Benton - opted out.

Italy - no action, intending to let the option expire.

Jerusalem - opted out in a 4-1 vote. Supervisor Jamie Sisson voted against the opt-out, citing the potential revenue stream for the town.

Middlesex - on for discussion at the Oct. 28 board meeting. Supervisor Wayne Dunton says the board is leaning toward opting out.

Milo - no action, intending to let the option expire.

Potter - a resolution has been drafted and scheduled for a public hearing at the Nov. 18 board meeting

Starkey - no action, intending to let the option expire.

VILLAGES

Dresden - opted out.

Dundee - no action, but a local law was passed banning smoking or vaping on village property.

Rushville - no action, intending to let the option expire.

Other counties

In Steuben County, District Attorney Brooks Baker, Sheriff Jim Allard and Hilda Lando of the Steuben Prevention Coalition have been visiting local governments to offer their insight into the matter.

Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker addresses the Hornell Common Council on the merits of opting out of cannabis dispensaries and lounges before the state deadline of Dec. 31.

"Opting out is the safe course," Baker told the Hornell Common Council last week. "It gives you time to think, kind of see what this (Cannabis Control Board) does with what the legislation looks like, and also watch what happens on the news with these centers and decide is it right for our community? The only way to get that time to make an informed decision is to opt out."

That message has been well-received in parts of Steuben County. Lando said Riverside, Addison, Painted Post, Urbana, and Hammondsport are all leaning towards opting out, while Corning was more receptive to opting in. 

The local decision-making process has been slowed by delays at the state level. The state’s new five-person Cannabis Control Board, charged with interpreting and shaping the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, met for the first time this month.

Local officials are wary of opting into the marijuana legislation until state policy is settled. State Sen. George Borrello, a Chautauqua County Republican who also represents Allegany County and southern Livingston County, said more municipalities are considering opting out because they have not seen sufficient marijuana regulations from the board, which has been delayed by at least six months.

"So, you're asking these municipalities to make a decision with zero information from state government as to what the landscape will be," said Borrello, who has not been a supporter of New York's effort to legalize recreational marijuana. "Therefore, how do you expect these municipalities to stick to the same timeline when New York state is at least six months behind?" And because of that delay, Borrello has sponsored legislation to extend the period that cities can opt out to Dec. 31, 2022.  

The uncertainty has left some key questions unanswered as elected officials weigh their decisions. Baker said the state may limit marijuana licenses to one per 50,000 residents, while Lando speculated the price of a license may preclude local startups in Steuben County from entering the legal marijuana business. The Cannabis Control Board will decide state policy, though the timeline remains undetermined.

Growers will also face a time crunch. Cannabis sold in New York state must be grown in the state due to federal restrictions. Many observers expect New York won't see retail sales of recreational marijuana until the latter half of 2022, at the earliest.

With reporting by Tiffany Cusaac-Smith and Chris Potter.