By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
GREENVILLE — Elected officials unanimously voted to opt out of permitting cannabis retail sales and on-site consumption lounges in the town one day before the state deadline.
After a public hearing Dec. 30, the town board voted not to permit marijuana sales and lounges by a 4-0 vote, with Town Councilman John Bensen absent from the meeting.
Towns and villages across New York state had until Dec. 31 to opt out, and municipalities that took no action were automatically opted in.
“It’s kind of ironic how they set it up — if you sit on your hands and you don’t do anything by midnight tomorrow night, you are automatically opted in and you can’t change that,” Town Supervisor Paul Macko said at the Dec. 30 public hearing.
Marijuana was legalized in New York state by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in April. Communities can only opt out of permitting retail sales and cannabis lounges; they are not able to ban recreational marijuana use.
For communities that opt in to permit dispensaries, there would be a 9% state excise tax on sales of cannabis products and a 4% local tax. Greene County would receive 25% of the local tax revenue and the remaining 75% would go to the municipality where the dispensary is located, according to the state legislation.
Town Councilman Joel Rauf said the law would strictly limit how much tax revenue the town could see should a dispensary be allowed in the community.
“The distribution of the sales tax revenue is very cruel,” Rauf said. “As a local town, we will see 3% of the sales tax revenue. So if a successful business has a million dollars’ worth of revenue in 12 months’ time, our town will only see $30,000 in sales tax revenue and that is if a successful business can get off the ground and have sales of a million dollars.”
Macko said he has heard from residents who don’t want the town to turn down a possible revenue source, but he, too, was skeptical about how much revenue could actually be generated.
Greene County Legislator Greg Davis, R-Greenville, urged the town board to opt out.
“In 2019, [former Gov.] Cuomo tried to dump this on the counties and it didn’t go over well,” Davis said. “A bunch of the large counties publicly said they were going to opt out. This went through in 2020 and the way it was designed is it was put onto the towns since it did not go over well with the counties. As a resident of Greenville, I am absolutely against the lounges and I heavily question whether we are really going to make a lot of money with the dispensaries. This is going to be more headache for the town than we need and my recommendation would be to say no because you can always opt back in, but if you opt in now, you are stuck — you can’t get out of it.”
Legalized marijuana has led to issues in other states, Davis added.
“All states that have legalized marijuana have seen an increase in deaths due to impaired drivers,” Davis said.
Rauf recommended the town reject both retail sales and lounges.
“My opinion as a member of the board is that we should opt out tonight and give the local community members an opportunity to referendum the issue, if that is their choice,” Rauf said. “That is truly the only way as a board that we should vote tonight — we should opt out and give the community the opportunity to referendum the issue.”
Local residents would have 45 days after the board’s vote to collect an adequate number of signatures and put the issue to a referendum by voters, town attorney Tal Rappleyea said.
Town Councilman Travis Richards agreed the board should opt out.
“I think it is in our best interest tonight to opt out with the option of opting in later on,” Richards said. “To me, this is a much larger discussion than the five people that sit at this table and the four people that are sitting in the audience. I would rather see some sort of referendum to allow the mass of the town to speak because this will be the face of the town, in reality, and let them decide what they want to see in the town, not just the five people sitting here.”
Town Councilman Richard Bear agreed.
“As a board member, I am very concerned about it so I would opt out along with the other board members,” Bear said. “I feel we are not set up in our zoning for this. It’s kind of a scary situation, plus I don’t like the idea that we are doing it just as a board — I think it affects the whole community and I think we need to go to a referendum vote in the community. That is a much better way to go about it.”
Greenville joins several neighboring towns that have opted out of permitting both dispensaries and lounges, including Cairo, Durham and New Baltimore.