COLONIE — The town is looking to opt into allowing retailers to sell marijuana but opt out of allowing users to smoke or ingest it at the site.
The town is choosing that route, said Town Attorney Michael Magguilli, because technology has not caught up with the new law allowing recreational use of marijuana in this state.
“There are no breathalyzers for marijuana so if someone is pulled over the police would have to rely on common law standards to make a subjective determination as to whether or not that person is under the influence of marijuana while they are operating the motor vehicle,” he said during a public hearing on the issue. “Hopefully, someone would come up with a breathalyzer that applies to marijuana and we can re-visit it at that time.”
The decision to opt out is in response to a law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act required municipalities to opt in or out of allowing retail establishments to sell marijuana like a liquor store and/or allow its use onsite like a bar.
Municipalities across the state have until Dec. 31 to opt in or out of the two provisions. If a municipality opts out, it can opt in at a later date but if it opts in changing that decision is more complicated. If a municipality does nothing, it is the same as opting in.
What the town decides to do only applies to the town and not the two villages, Menands and the Village of Colonie, within its borders.
Magguilli said the rationale behind that is “probably because they don’t want businesses investing money and having the rug pulled out beneath them” by being forced to close down.
The Town Board did not vote but instead kept the public hearing open. Regardless of how it does eventually vote, the state law allows for a permissive referendum, the results of which will override the board’s decision. To get the issue on the November ballot, the signatures of 5 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election — or about 1,600 valid signatures — must be gathered and the results of the public vote will determine what direction the town will take.
Of the handful of speakers at the public hearing, not one spoke for or against either measure but instead had a number of questions, most of which could not be answered with any certainty because the state law is still very much in flux.
Without a referendum, whatever the town chooses must also be approved by the Albany County Planning Board, which is slated to address the issue on Aug. 19.
“This is new for us as a town and a community. We are assuming all around us, people will be opting in, but we aren’t sure about consumption,” Supervisor Paula Mahan said. “One thing we do know, is we are located in the middle of other communities and when people go to other places people go through our town to get there and that is a big concern for our Police Department and our EMS because we get a lot of people that pass through the Town of Colonie on a daily basis and we still have to come up with funds to enforce things and take care of people.”
The marijuana will be taxed at 13 percent of the sales price with 9 percent going to the state coffers and 4 percent staying with the counties, a percentage of which would then be distributed to the municipalities that host the marijuana retailers. There appears to be an additional tax based on the level of THC in some products like edibles, Magguilli said.
Much of the money is earmarked to help those negatively impacted by the Rockefeller-era Drug Laws that put a number of people behind bars for relatively minor offenses. For example, 40 percent of the revenue generated is for “community investment” and another 40 percent is for treatment facilities and public information campaigns on the health impacts of cannabis with the remaining 20 percent slated for programming in schools.
“Every municipality is different, our needs are different than the city of Albany, but there are things we do and try to educate and help people with those types of issues. We still have DARE in our Police Department,” Mahan said.
The bottom line is, what all that means when it comes down to where the tax dollars and cents go is still very much an open question.
“Whether or not that changes in the future who knows, but that is what is written into the law on this date,” Magguilli said. “It looks like all the money is earmarked but we have all had experiences with the state and we really don’t know how the money will be spent. It’s up to the state and the Marijuana Control Board.”
The state law would allow those 21 or older to use marijuana for recreation. It allows the sale and purchase of marijuana and allows a user to grow up to six plants at home. New York is the 17th state to legalize marijuana and Cuomo estimated it could create more than 60,000 jobs and spur $3.5 billion in economic activity.
One concern, though, is that a 13 percent tax will make marijuana too expensive and people will still use illegal means to obtain the drug.
It remains unclear when the state will allow over the counter sales of recreational marijuana but Magguilli said it could take as long as 2023 before all the bugs are worked out and the financial details are finalized. He did say while local police will have a say in some regulating aspects the state will have oversight of how business is conducted by each establishment.
Town Board members were, by and large, non-committal and seemed pleased with the idea of waiting for more details to come down from the state.
Board member Melissa Jeffers said it could make it easier for people to get marijuana for medicinal use.
“Medicinal marijuana has existed in this state but there were certain qualifying conditions to access it and most of them were related to certain cancers and auto immune diseases and then only certain doctors across the state who were licensed to issue the medicinal marijuana cards,” she said. “It wasn’t something that was readily accessible to people who could have benefited from it so from that perspective I’m a big advocate for people who could benefit from it who have not had access before and I think it is something to consider when we talk about the retail sales of it.”
The public hearing was adjourned indefinitely and the Town Board is welcoming comments via the website or anyone from the public can call Town Hall or contact any board member.
Meanwhile, the Business Review of Albany says a number of companies are eyeballing prime real estate along Wolf Road in preparation for when the state finalizes the details and allows the retail sale of recreational marijuana.
One marijuana company has already signed a lease for the former Pier 1 Imports store at 146 Wolf Road, according to the Business Review. Susan Cerone, a commercial real estate broker whose family owns the 9,200-square-foot building, told the newspaper it will be used for a medical marijuana dispensary with the goal of opening by this fall.
“They’re taking every inch of it,” Cerone said. “I think the reason they’re getting all the space is for the expansion [into recreational marijuana].”
Cerone said she couldn’t disclose the tenant’s name, but a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health said the agency approved a request by Vireo Health to move its dispensing facility from 38 Fuller Road in Colonie to 146 Wolf Road.
Each of the 10 companies licensed to sell medical marijuana in New York state are only allowed four dispensaries, according to the Business Review.
A marijuana company also expressed interest in leasing the former Romano’s Macaroni Grill at 1 Metro Park Road off Wolf but the property owners declined, said Ken Brownell, listing broker at Vanguard-Fine LLC.
“The problem is nobody knows the guidelines yet,” he told the newspaper. “Everybody is out there putting their best feelers out. At the end of the day, there’s still a lot of variables left. What is the state going to do in terms of licensing? Another issue is a lot of towns still have the right to opt out.”