It’s a split decision on whether cannabis retail outlets and on-site consumption lounges can open in the Town of Gardiner by 2023.
While the Gardiner Town Board nixed the idea of allowing marijuana to be enjoyed in lounges within its borders, it okayed the sale of the product in dispensaries at Tuesday’s year-end meeting.
Following a public hearing at Town Hall where there was no public comment, the board voted 4-0 to opt out of having lounges in the town.
By taking no action before the state-imposed Dec. 31 deadline to opt out of pot dispensaries, the board effectively approved the operation of retail stores in the Town of Gardiner.
Cannabis Control Board member and former State Sen. Jen Metzger told the board in a Zoom call last month that cannabis stores likely wouldn’t open in Ulster County until 2023 as the state sorts out regulations for the sale of cannabis.
Retail stores could still be banned if town residents petitioned for a permissive referendum on the opening of marijuana shops and voted it down.
But based on the lack of interest at the public hearing, it seems unlikely there will be any push for that.
Supervisor Mary Beth Majestic was joined by board members Laura Walls, David Dukler and Franco Carucci in a 4-0 vote to opt out of cannabis lounges. No vote was necessary to allow the opening of retail outlets.
Councilman Warren Wiegand was absent.
Following the meeting, Majestic said she thought cannabis retail outlets could benefit the town.
“Potentially it’s (tax) revenue, but it also provides a service for people who tend to enjoy indulging in cannabis,” she said. “It would be nice if they could get it right here in Gardiner.”
There is a local excise tax imposed on the sale of cannabis products from a retail dispensary to a cannabis customer of 4 percent of the product’s price. This tax is distributed to local governments based on the location of the dispensary.
Municipalities that allow marijuana shops to open will get 75 percent of the local tax revenue.
Counties will receive 25 percent of the local tax.
Many New York residents have been traveling to Massachusetts to frequent cannabis stores and lounges since they became legal in the neighboring state. The Town of Barrington (MA) reported it received nearly $1 million in tax revenue from one store in its first six months of operation in 2019.
Although there are several vacant storefronts in downtown Gardiner, Majestic isn’t sure where potential cannabis shops might open and if the town could support more than one.
“I don’t know how I feel about where they should be right now,” she said. “I don’t know how many of them we may end up with. We do have some vacant storefronts, but I think that’s a bigger decision for the board to have.”
Majestic said the board’s decision to opt out of cannabis lounges largely had to do with not knowing how they will operate.
“The only thing we have to compare it with is San Francisco,” she said. “And we’re not San Francisco. Until we see what it looks like in New York, I don’t think we’re ready for it yet.”
Dukler, who was attending his last meeting after not running for reelection, said the idea of having people driving around town after consuming marijuana at an on-site consumption lounge in Gardiner didn’t sit well with him. He favored just opening dispensaries until the technology improved so police could measure whether marijuana users were impaired.
“Don’t forget when you purchase it (at dispensaries), it’s not consumption,” he said. “You can’t smoke (cannabis) in a dispensary. That’s the law.”
Carucci said the board is pretty much following the wishes of the town residents who filled out an online survey that asked if they favored having cannabis dispensaries and/or lounges in the town.
“From what I saw on the surveys, it was ‘yes’ on the dispensaries and on lounges it was kind of a mixed bag,” he said. “I think at this point it makes more sense to hold off on the lounges.”
In other news, the board went over changes to the updated Comprehensive Plan by consultant David Church and listened to more input from the public.
Majestic said after incorporating any new changes to the draft document the board would then forward it to the Ulster County Planning Board for its review.
She estimated that a public hearing would be scheduled in February 2022. This is the first update to the Comprehensive Plan since 2004.