Lowville opts out of retail cannabis

Photo by Michael Fischer from Pexels

LOWVILLE — Cannabis dispensaries and weed cafes will not be coming to the town of Lowville unless residents decide to do something about it.

On June 17, it became the first municipality in Lewis County to pass an “opt out” law.

Opt out laws are subject to “permissive referendum” — an action unique to New York state that makes it possible for local residents to petition to have the board-approved local law on the November ballot to let the general population decide whether it should be enacted.

For a referendum petition to be successful, it must have the names, addresses and signatures of 10% of the total number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election and be filed within 45 days of the law’s passing, town lawyer Raymond Meier told the board in their June meeting.

Meeting minutes indicated that for Lowville, residents of both the town and the village can be included in the petition and participate in the referendum, Supervisor Randy Schell said. In the 2018 election for governor, the final tally on the Lewis County Board of Elections’ website shows 1,658 residents cast a vote in the five districts of Lowville, indicating a referendum petition must have at least 165 signatures and be submitted to the town clerk by Aug. 1.

In a public hearing on May 20, two town residents made statements against the law, both citing financial reasons.

The first, Marty, said he believes “Mom & Pop shops” selling cannabis could help “bring back” the economy, according to the official hearing minutes. The second speaker against the law, Melanie, said that while she would like to see regulations in place governing retail outlets, she believes allowing the commerce will have many “bonuses” including revenue.

The only person to speak in favor of the law during the hearing was Cassie Forbus, coordinator of the United Prevention Coalition of Lewis County. The UP Coalition is concerned with preventing youth substance abuse.

Ms. Forbus said she is worried about underage consumption of cannabis edibles, marijuana overdose and “black-market” sales if retail establishments are allowed.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website that while it is possible to use too much marijuana, which could harm the user’s health, “a fatal overdose is unlikely.”

Ultimately, the town board unanimously supported the local law to opt out of the retail end of the state marijuana legalization law that was put into effect in March.

The local law will become active until the petition deadline has passed without any petitions being filed or, if there is a petition, until the result of the referendum.

Mr. Meier reminded meeting attendees and the board that the opt out law only impacts retail dispensaries and “on-site consumption” businesses, not personal possession and use or growing marijuana plants.

The village of Lowville and the town of Croghan have also started the process to pass similar local opt out laws.

The village’s public hearing will be held on July 14 at 4 p.m. at the village hall, 5535 Bostwick St., at the village offices. If the law passes, village residents interested in forwarding a November referendum may start or sign a petition for the village even if they also signed a town of Lowville petition.

On July 19, the town of Croghan will also hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. at their 9882 Route 126 offices.

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