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By Karen Carr Keefe
The Town Board has been asked by a resident to consider the pros and cons of having a restriction on cannabis sales on Grand Island. New York state permits such restrictions.
The board decided that not only will it consider the issue, members also will seek public comment on whether the town should opt out or opt in to permitting marijuana dispensary sales and on-site consumption licenses.
The public comment period will occur during the regular Town Board meeting at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 20. Comments will be limited to 3 minutes each.
Council member Mike Madigan introduced the issue during a Town Board workshop meeting on Tuesday. He said the woman who raised the issue wasn’t sure what the Town Board’s position was on the sale of recreational marijuana in the town.
“It’s about freedom of markets – a lot of different things,” Madigan said. He read legal language on the issue: “State law legalizing sale and use of marijuana allows for an individual municipality to ban licensed marijuana sale and public use within the municipality by enacting local ordinance no later than Dec. 31.”
“So we’re on the clock for this,” Madigan said. “If we don’t act before the 31st, if we even wanted to act – and I want to qualify that, because in no way does this suggest that I’m supporting any kind of an action. But I do think it’s worth discussion. Plus I do think it’s worth having residents give feedback on it. So, I’m thinking we do a public hearing, so that they can officially weigh in, and then we can have a discussion.
“I think concurrent with that, I think there’s a lot of things in between banning it and/or making it totally wide open in the Wild, Wild West.”
Madigan talked about “overlay districts,” special permit or operating dispensary, restricting on-site consumption – he said he is actually in favor or restriction of on-site consumption – and “any other option we can come up with.”
Town Attorney Peter Godfrey said, “First, the date is a little bit earlier than you think.” He calculated the law should be adopted by the town in its first meeting in November. He added the town has a right to opt out of the two types of permits, the on-site use and the dispensary permits.
He said there are pros and cons to the issue for a municipality.
“This is the one and only chance to opt out of the ability to do this stuff. After that ship sails, you can’t in the future opt out of it. You could, theoretically, go back the other way,” Godfrey said.
“If you opt out, folks won’t be able to engage in those types of business uses within the town and you create a barrier for anybody that wanted to do it and, obviously, it’s going to be a scramble to put all these things in place early on, and those communities that allow it will probably get a disproportionate share and that carries through with tax dollars,” Godfrey said. He noted local distribution of the tax dollars is based, in part, on where the licensed activity takes place.
Madigan said if the town says “no” to the sale, Grand Island would be excluded from the tax revenue. He said in West Seneca, they estimated the potential revenue “at $40,000 or something.”
Godfrey said it’s hard to know the magnitude of sales that would occur, and it’s only speculation at this point. He added that the local law would have to be adopted subject to permissive referendum.
“What it basically means, there’s a time period for residents who wish to seek a contrary position, could call for a referendum and actually have the item put on for a ballot – an election for the general public,” he said.
Godfrey explained 10% of the residents’ signatures are needed to get the measure on the ballot within a time period of 45 days. That would require starting the process in the beginning of November. He said such a measure wouldn’t restrict the use of marijuana within the town; it deals, instead, with the on-site use and dispensary permits. A town could choose to opt out of one or both of the licenses.
“I think it will be an interesting conversation with all of us,” Madigan said.
Godfrey said a state office of cannabis management has been established that can regulate the type of tax rates on various types of cannabis products.
Council member Tom Digati quipped, “Do you mean the first thing New York figured out is how to tax it? – Shocking!”
Godfrey said a public hearing or public comment period on cannabis should be on the topic of the permitting the business activity of marijuana sales, not a discussion of whether “pot” is good or bad.
The state’s technical terms for the two types of cannabis permits are: “adult use cannabis retail dispensaries” and “on-site consumption licenses.”
Workshop vs. Regular Meeting Voting
Also during the workshop meeting, the board zeroed in on which kinds of votes can take place in workshops and which should take place during the regular meetings.
Past boards have agreed that any substantive votes must be done at the general meeting. The idea is to provide more public access when the votes, themselves, are more important to the community as a whole.
Madigan said Town Clerk Patricia Frentzel brought it to the board’s attention that council members may be voting on issues of more importance in workshops when it might be better to do so in the general meeting.
“I think we need to just come to an agreement and ask that question each time: Should we really be voting during the workshop on this or should it really be showing up on the regular meeting agenda?” Madigan said.
Madigan and Town Supervisor John Whitney both pointed out, “Both are actually Town Board meetings.” Whitney also agreed that issues that are of more importance should be voted on at the regular Town Board meetings.
Council member Jennifer Baney said, “When those emergency situations come up, if we instead follow the protocol of voting to suspend the rules and do it during the 8 o’clock (meeting), it can get us moving in a better direction.”