Actions on the part of village of Potsdam officials serve as a reminder that legal marijuana retail shops in the north country will be few and far between.
The Village Board of Trustees held a special meeting April 24 to discuss Potsdam’s proposed local law on permitting cannabis dispensaries. State law requires communities to approve such measures before these businesses may open.
Passed in March 2021, the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act allows residents at least 21 years of age to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis or up to 24 grams of concentrated cannabis in public.
Individuals also may smoke marijuana anyplace cigarette smoking is permitted. People will eventually be allowed to have three mature plants and three immature plants in their homes, with a limit of six mature and six immature plants per household.
The law authorizes people to sell recreational marijuana in licensed storefronts. The state’s Cannabis Control Board awarded the first 36 conditional adult-use retail dispensary licenses in November — 28 of them to individuals and eight to nonprofit organizations — from a pool of about 900 applicants.
Lawmakers took an unusual step in prioritizing who will be granted the first cannabis dispensary licenses. Candidates were all previously incarcerated on a drug charge or related to someone incarcerated on a drug charge.
All individuals and groups vying for one of these licenses had to demonstrate a link to someone caught up in the criminal justice system. They will have access to $200 million in support from the Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund.
Among the first 36 CAURD licenses issued last year, just one went to an applicant from the north country. The Cannabis Control Board planned to award 175 licenses — 150 to individuals and 25 to nonprofit groups — in its initial phase. According to an Aug. 24 story on the website for Marijuana Moment, only four of these are destined for Northern New York.
Lawmakers seemed more intent on scoring some social justice points than in finding a reasonable and fair way of distributing CAURD licenses statewide.
Municipalities have the choice to opt in or opt out of allowing dispensaries. It’s good that several communities in the north country have decided to permit cannabis retail shops now that the state has legalized its recreational use. The village of Potsdam is joined by the town and village of Massena as well as the towns of Burke and Chateauguay in Franklin County.
However, the list of communities in Northern New York that opted out is longer. These municipalities include the villages of Copenhagen and Lowville in Lewis County; and the village of Alexandria Bay, village of Cape Vincent, town and village of Clayton, and city and town of Watertown in Jefferson County.
This is unfortunate as they will miss out on capturing some of the revenue generated by this legal commerce. Under the MRTA, marijuana sales will be taxed at a 13% rate, with 9% going to New York state, 3% going to the local government and 1% going to the county.
So there won’t be many lawful cannabis dispensaries in this region. But this doesn’t mean people can’t purchase marijuana from a local business — they just can’t do so legally.
Unlicensed dispensaries have cropped up on both Massena and Potsdam. Authorities in both communities have sought advice from state officials, but so far their questions have gone unanswered.
Rather than devising regulations about unlicensed dispensaries when recreational marijuana was legalized, state lawmakers only now got around to crafting policies about how to penalize them. Such a measure was introduced Feb. 2 in the state Legislature. Lawmakers passed this bill this week as part of the state’s budget for fiscal year 2023-2024.
It was wise for New York to approve recreational marijuana as many states have done. It’s time for Americans to embrace the idea that individuals should be free to use marijuana if they choose, as long as their actions don’t affect others.
However, state legislators have bungled key parts of this plan. They need to tie up the loose ends so that the entire measure doesn’t unravel.
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