DELMAR — Bethlehem Town Board members said they welcome the prospect of having cannabis dispensaries in town, they’re just waiting on the state Office of Cannabis Management to start setting regulations first.
The Town Board opted out of allowing cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption lounges with a unanimous vote on Wednesday, Dec. 8. Before the board opted out, the majority of members promised to come back to the topic next year.
Albany legalized recreational use of marijuana in April. While doing so, it set forth the establishment of the state Office of Cannabis Management. The regulatory body was to lay down a network of laws and expectations, including a means of licensing for retail businesses. But the Cannabis Control Board only met for the first time in October and while doing so just approved a list of senior staff for the office.
While the state is paving the way for cannabis business, it has allowed towns and municipal boards to opt-out of permitting it from within their respective communities. Municipal boards across New York have been under a year-end deadline to decide just that. Should they fail to act, or choose to allow for it, municipal boards can’t opt-out after the deadline.
Despite an overall favorable opinion on dispensary business, the board cited the slow rollout of state regulations. Town Supervisor David VanLuven said he would welcome the business.
“I’m fully comfortable with retail dispensaries in Bethlehem, and that’s the direction that I would be looking for us to be moving in in the future,” he said, adding that he is not comfortable with consumption venues. “I haven’t seen what an on-site consumption lounge looks like, and so until I have a better sense of what it means — is it a cozy bar or is it the equivalent to an opium den? I have no idea?”
As the Town has deliberated over local cannabis business it has had to imagine how it would appear while under mandate to make a decision before the end of the year. Town Planning Director Robert Leslie said he would anticipate new dispensaries or lounges would want to seek storefronts in the town’s established commercial areas — Delaware Avenue, Route 9W or New Scotland Road.
Prospective locations are already limited by their relative distance from schools and churches by the state. For example, lounges would be at least 500 feet away from school grounds and 200 feet away from a house of worship. The state will also allow towns to extend those thresholds even further.
Leslie later used the neighborhood bar analogy to describe its use. Where a customer could buy alcohol, sit down and consume the product. He then likened a dispensary to a beverage center where consumers can purchase the product to use at home.
“I don’t think it’s prudent for our board to do nothing,” said Town Board member Dan Coffey. “I think the thing that we should do is do the double opt-out tonight. … Revisit it [and] ask the advisory Comp Plan committee to weigh in on it, and for our planning department to weigh in, but do come back.”