CATSKILL — With a Dec. 31 deadline looming for municipalities to decide if they wish to opt out of allowing marijuana dispensaries or on-site cannabis consumption lounges in their communities, the Town of Catskill is soliciting public opinion on the issue before a decision is rendered.
The Catskill Town Board is holding a special public forum on the future of cannabis establishments in the town on Nov. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Robert C. Antonelli Senior Center in Catskill.
“It’s going to be a public forum where we want to get the feelings of the community,” Catskill Town Supervisor Dale Finch said. “We want to see whether they’re for or against having dispensaries. The other part of the equation is whether or not they want to allow what you could call lounges in the community. So there’s two options under the cannabis law. You can opt out of both of them or one or the other.”
When New York legalized adult-use marijuana on March 31, a new Office of Cannabis Management was created which will issue licenses for dispensaries and lounges in municipalities that do not opt out by passing a local law by Dec. 31.
Possession and use of marijuana is now legal for adults 21 and over in the state and municipalities are not allowed to opt out of that portion of the legislation.
Finch said there could be an advantage to opting out of dispensaries or lounges or both before the end of the year, as the town could always opt back in later if it so chooses.
“If you don’t opt out then you’re definitely in, and I think the upside of this is if you do opt out now on certain items you can always opt back in at a later date,” he noted. “It’s only a one-way street type of thing. If you’re silent on the issue, automatically it’s going to be open for dispensaries and lounges in your community if you don’t opt out.”
The Catskill Town Board was not required to hold a public forum, but Finch said he would strongly consider the public’s will before the town makes a decision.
“Honestly, I really want to hear from the people of the town of Catskill to get opinions on it first,” he said. “It’s a revenue-driven thing through the State of New York. The towns, along with the county, would get a 4% sales tax that goes back to the townships. So that’s a positive, but I personally wouldn’t make that decision just based on revenue. We want to see what other impacts it would have on our community. It’s really a wide-open thing at this point, I believe.”
If the town board decides to vote on a local law to opt out of cannabis dispensaries, a public hearing would have to be held at that time.
As part of the legislation passed in the spring, a local excise tax of 4% will be imposed on the sale of cannabis at dispensaries, with 75 percent of the revenue earmarked for local municipalities and 25 percent headed for the counties where the dispensaries are located.
“Every town is viewing it differently,” Finch said. “A lot of towns up by Albany are opting out of both. Some towns are leaning towards allowing dispensaries but not lounges.”
Finch noted that the town was not caught off guard by the state legislation, but said the administration is taking its time before deciding to opt out or not.
“I think we kind of knew it was coming down the pipe,” he said. “We had talked about it for several months and we wanted to have community input before we made a decision.”
Finch said that since the state cannabis legislation passed in March, the town of Catskill has only received one inquiry from an outside business about establishing a cannabis dispensary in the town.
“It wasn’t site-specific at all,” he said. “They really just wanted to feel the town out a little bit to see if we were leaning one way or the other.”