Chatham circles pot opt-out issue

The Town and Village of Chatham are considering cannabis laws.

CHATHAM — The town and village of Chatham are each considering laws opting out of cannabis sales.

Officials are looking at the opt-out option — at least for the time being.

The village will hold a public hearing Monday to discuss a local law calling for the village to opt out of retail dispensary and on-site consumption of cannabis to give the village board time for review. The town will hold a public hearing Nov. 18 to discuss a local law for the town to opt out of allowing on-site cannabis consumption sites but not opting out of allowing retail cannabis dispensaries.

“By us opting out — our early call if you will — the board desires to spend a little more time researching what might be a good fit for the village,” Chatham Village Mayor John Howe said. “And it gives us the option to opt back in which we may very well do early next year.”

The way the state law is written if a municipality does not opt out of the law by the end of this year, they are automatically opted in, and do not have the opportunity to opt out after, Howe said.

The village will have to wait until after the public hearing to vote on a law, Howe said. If at the hearing people want the village to go in a different direction regarding the opt out process he said the board will take a look at that.

“If we acted on it now I don’t think we’re prepared weather, it be zoning, or how this might work, we don’t really have all the details, and I think its a little premature if we opted in at this point.” Howe said. “So that’s what our thought process is.”

New York state enacted the state cannabis law in March 2021, it allows for any town, village or city to create a local law opting out from allowing retail cannabis dispensaries and or on-site cannabis consumption establishments within its boundaries.

“I don’t think anybody from the board at this point is opposed to the recreational marijuana the way it’s written,” Howe said. “It’s just that there’s some dynamics there — taxes, zoning and where it may be allowed. We just don’t have enough time currently to put that all in order before the end of the year so this would let us choose to opt out with the idea that we can opt back in later.”

The town of Chatham is also in the process of considering legislation related to cannabis sales. Unlike the village, the town is considering opting out of allowing the consumption sites but not the retail dispensaries.

“I personally would allow consumption sites, I don’t think it’s any different than a tasting room at a distillery,” Chatham Town Supervisor Donal Collins said at the town board meeting Thursday. “Even though New York is going to parse out if its multi-use, they are going to have cultivation and consumption in separate licenses.”

The town sent a draft copy of the proposed local law to the Columbia County Planning Board for review and determined they would be holding a public hearing regarding the matter Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m.

“What we did, we would allow the dispensaries and I imagine we’ll look to our zoning law for now to address that,” Collins said. “The consumption sites we would opt out, and that’s something that can be opted back into.”

The town and village will both have until Dec. 31 of this year to pass legislation opting out of dispensaries or consumption sites. The New York state Office of Cannabis Management allows for a municipality to opt out of allowing licenses to locate within their respective jurisdictions. According to the office, cities, towns and villages cannot opt out of adult-use legalization, adult-use cannabis possession and use by adults 21 or older. A county level government does not have the option to opt out of any of the adult-use license types.

“I look at it as New York agriculture in a new form,” Collins said. “I understand there’s concerns about the consumption itself, there’s concerns over the recently legalized drug, you have to address everyone’s concerns. I may be a little bit too eager to do something, even though I don’t use the product myself, I understand why there’s hesitation ”

A local excise tax is imposed on the sale of cannabis products from dispensary to a consumer at 4% according to the state Office of Cannabis Management. The tax is distributed to local governments based on the location of the retail dispensary. Twenty-five percent goes to the county and 75% goes to the cities, towns or villages within the county as a proportion of cannabis sales.

If a town and a village within the town both allow adult-use sales, the revenue will be distributed based on a distribution agreement between the town and village. If no such agreement exists, the revenue distribution between the town and village is divided evenly.

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