By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
NEW BALTIMORE — Town officials voted to opt out of permitting cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption lounges within the town’s boundaries.
The board voted unanimously 4-0 to opt out, with Town Councilwoman Kelly Downs absent from the Dec. 27 meeting.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation March 31 legalizing recreational adult-use marijuana, giving municipalities the option to either opt in to permit cannabis dispensaries and on-site lounges, or opt out. Those that choose to opt out may opt in later on, but those that opt in by Dec. 31, cannot opt back out.
A public hearing was held at town hall, with a handful of residents attending.
“We are here to hear from the public what their perspectives are regarding the two separate components — the on-site consumption and/or the sale of marijuana within the boundaries of the town of New Baltimore,” Town Supervisor Jeff Ruso said. “We want to hear from the town. I have heard from many individuals as I walk this place and meet up with people here and there. I clearly have received a mixed bag — I have many people who are very much not in favor and some people who are very much in favor. The majority are people who don’t really care.”
The first resident to speak was Ellie Alfeld.
“I am against the [on-site] consumption part of the law and mainly I want it noted that if in fact it does get approved here by you for the sale, I want it in a commercial zone, nowhere near a residential or agricultural area, just for the safety of people’s properties,” Alfeld noted before the board members cast their votes.
Ruso confirmed that if dispensaries were to be approved, they would not be permitted in residential areas.
“It would definitely go into a commercial zone and siting would be up to the planning board,” Ruso said.
Town Councilman Chuck Irving said he was against permitting either dispensaries or lounges at this time.
“I am not for the consumption part, and the sale — I understand that we could, after a time, revisit it,” Irving said. “I am not in favor of either one at this time.”
Town Councilwoman Shelly VanEtten agreed.
“I am not in favor of either one at this moment,” VanEtten said. “I think we need to wait and see. We can always opt in later. I think we should opt out.”
Some advocates in the county who have supported opting in cite the possibility of economic development from tax revenue resulting from cannabis sales. Town Councilman Bill Boehlke was skeptical the town would see any significant revenue.
“I see very little benefit — even if we cut out the on-site use and just went for the sale, there is virtually no benefit to the town,” Boehlke said. “I talked to about 12 or 15 people and once the misunderstandings were cleared up and actually what the intent of this was and what we plan on doing, they were in full agreement — they think the wait-and-see course is the best course to take.”
“I think we are doing the right thing here because we can always, for whatever reason, revisit this, but once we put our rubber stamp to this, that’s it,” Boehlke added.
Ruso said opting out would still give residents who want to use cannabis products options as neighboring communities, including Coeymans, Ravena and Coxsackie, have opted in for the sale of marijuana.
“I’m not one who likes to hamper people’s personal lives, but I use the correlation of the liquor stores. If you want to buy a bottle of wine, you can go to Coxsackie, you can go to Ravena, and it doesn’t hamper you whatsoever from consuming your wine, or whatever you like to drink,” Ruso said. “By not having this in the town of New Baltimore, we are not restricting people from doing things they want to do.”
Ruso was also skeptical of the economic benefits the town could see from opting in.
“The financial gain that people think is going to happen, I am not convinced of that either,” Ruso said. “I don’t think this will inhibit the residents of the town who prefer to have marijuana in any way, shape or form.”
Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said the state has not finalized regulations on the cannabis industry so there are issues that remain up in the air.
“The task force that was set up by the state to develop these regulations has not done that yet. We have no idea what you would be walking into,” Linger told the town board. “I am not for or against it — marijuana is legal now, to a certain extent, and there is no changing that, but to not know what these regulations will say, I think it is premature to opt into something not knowing what you will be opting into, so I think you are on the right track.”