It is too early to tell what the area’s legal marijuana market will look like, local leaders said, but officials pledge to dig into the issue as more details are available.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law on Wednesday, which legalized recreational cannabis use. Under the new law, municipalities are not allowed to limit the consumption of marijuana or related products, but local officials may offer up bans on dispensaries and on-site consumption licenses.
Towns, villages and cities have until Dec. 31 to opt out under the law. In addition, such opt-outs are subject to permissive referendum — allowing petitions by voters to challenge the bans in an up-or-down vote at the ballot box.
In addition, municipalities may make their own zoning and siting rules for dispensaries or on-site consumption businesses, as long as the rules do “not make the operation of such licensed retail dispensaries or on-site consumption sites unreasonably impracticable.”
Counties may not issue blanket bans for all municipalities, as was considered in 2019. In addition, if a town puts forward a ban, any villages inside that town would not be covered, with the villages having the choice to opt out independently.
Olean city officials appear to be leaning toward sales.
“It could be a potential windfall for the city the way the excise tax is structured,” Mayor Bill Aiello said, noting that 3% of all sales will go directly to the city, as well as the city’s regular cut of sales taxes. “I have a fiduciary responsibility to look at what is best for the city, and I want to hear from the residents.”
The mayor said he has not spoken with the full Common Council yet on the subject, and so far he has only received one comment on the opt-out option from the public — from a Washington state-based anti-marijuana activist whose opinion Aiello is not weighing greatly.
Aiello, a retired police officer, opposed allowing sales in the city a few years ago.
In 2019, a proposal before the state Legislature called for cities over 100,000 and counties to make their determinations, but talk abounded of leaving it to villages and towns.
At that time, city officials were split on the matter. A January 2019 straw poll conducted by the Times Herald indicated the then-proposed opt-in system — where municipalities would actively move to approve marijuana sales — would have failed narrowly before the Common Council, but would also likely have been vetoed by Aiello if it had passed.
“I’ve probably softened my stance on it,” Aiello said Friday, noting now that the state has taken action, “It’s here — it’s going to be here.”
The last time around, he noted, “there wasn’t going to be anything in it for the communities,” he said, with no direct benefit beyond regular sales tax.
However, the decision does not go to the mayor.
“Ultimately, it is the Common Council’s decision,” Aiello said. “There’s still a lot of unknowns in this law.”
Aiello noted that the city can use zoning to keep dispensaries away from schools, for example, and he hopes to work with the New York Council of Mayors for best practices and draft policies.
“We have several months now before a decision has to be made” on opting out, the mayor said, with the earliest businesses not expected to open for almost two years. “We’ll have some time.”
The mayor noted that even though the city cannot ban personal use, there are limitations already in place. The state law prohibits marijuana use in all places where tobacco use is banned by law, which in Olean includes all city parks and government-owned properties since 2019.
Council President John Crawford, D-Ward 5, said he is cautiously optimistic, and he does not expect the council to move toward opting out.
“I think there’s still a lot of unknowns,” Crawford said, including effects on law enforcement — specifically in regard to how to handle driving while ability impaired cases, as well as effects on substance abuse programs in the community.
But on the surface, the bill appears to offer many financial benefits for something that many people — national polls indicate between 10% and 15% of adults use marijuana regularly, about on par with tobacco use.
The city’s position as an economic and population hub in the the area means the city is ideally located to benefit from sales — and the taxes on sales — Crawford said, adding it could benefit industries like tourism and telecommuting that city leaders hope to foster.
“This is an opportunity that I ask we all keep an open mind on,” Crawford said. “We need to make the determination of what’s best for the community. There’s a lot of opportunity to explore … but with every opportunity comes challenges and risks,” he said. “There’s always a catch, and we need to make an informed decision.”
Now, Crawford said, is the time for the city to gather information on the number, location and restrictions on dispensaries in advance of businesses opening.
“We need to be on top of our game … we want to be able to hit the ground running,” he said, hoping to have city code and zoning changes in place to foster development.
IN ALLEGANY, Mayor Greg Pearl said that the village and town will not make a decision on the matter until a joint meeting can be held.
“At this point, the village and the town are going to sit down together and do what’s best,” Pearl said. “We’re going to be on the same page when we come out of this because the village sits inside the town.”
Pearl said the meeting likely won’t be held until after the Easter holiday with Allegany Town Supervisor Jim Hitchcock and the two boards.
“I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to be difficult,” Pearl added. “Just as long as (the village and town) don’t muddy it by being different, it will be fine.”
IN PORTVILLE, the village board of trustees and Mayor Anthony Evans have not discussed the new law.
“It came upon us quickly and I think the villages are kind of waiting for the county to take the lead,” Evans said.
He pointed out that the law is so new and with the two-week spring break at Portville Central School District, many of the people that would be included in the discussion are out of town.
“I can tell you the police department has some concerns about the law,” Evans continued. “We haven’t gotten that far on the business end of things. My hunch is that there will be changes and revisions.”
Evans said the village board would not make any decisions without a public hearing to get the opinions of village residents.
“Like I said before about channeling the (Buffalo) Bills, the residents are the owners and we’re not making any decisions that impact lives without hearing from them,” he said.