Village opts out with option to opt back in

Board partially split on cannabis decision

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In accordance with the Marijuana Taxation Act, the Village of Patchogue Board of Trustees voted to opt out of both the allowing of retail cannabis dispensaries and on-site cannabis consumption establishments and for a code amend to prohibit the smoking of cannabis tobacco, and similar substances, until future information is provided by the government.

According to New York State law, cities, towns, and villages can opt out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses from locations within their jurisdictions. However, municipalities cannot opt out of adult-use legalization.

All municipalities, according to NYS, are not permitted to prohibit the operation or licensure of adult-use, medical or cannabinoid hemp licenses. However, they are permitted to pass laws and regulations to govern the time, place and manner of the retail dispensaries.

For example, the Cannabis Control Board details: “Cities, towns, and villages are permitted to pass laws and regulations pertaining to local zoning and the location of licensees, hours of operations and adherence to local building codes. Municipalities may not issue local licenses to cannabis licensees.”

To opt out of cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses, a municipality must pass a local law by Dec. 31, 2021. If a municipality has already passed a local law prohibiting these licenses from operating, the municipality will still have to pass a new local law conforming to the opt-out requirements outlined in the MRTA.

If a municipality does not opt out by Dec. 31, 2021, it will be unable to opt out at a future date. However, a municipality may opt back in, to allow either or both uses by repealing the local law which established the prohibition, reads the New York State website.

The board opts out

The board voted on opting out with a 4 to 2 vote and another vote with four no votes, one abstain and one for, to allow for the on-site consumption of marijuana.

Village attorney Brian Egan prefaced the public hearing held on Tuesday, Sept. 28, with the fact that New York State has already legalized marijuana use and possession and the discussion was not to be about those in favor or against the usage.

According to Egan, if opted in, the state sales tax is 13 percent on marijuana sales, of which 4 percent goes to the local level split between county, village and town. The village would end up with about 1.5 percent in revenue. Thus far, most Long Island towns have opted out, including Shelter Island, Smithtown, Garden City and Freeport, whereas Riverhead has opted in.

The concern, among the board, was to opt out in an effort to allow the state authority to work out the details of how and where permitting will be granted.

“The question tonight is whether we want to wait for further clarity on zoning, or do we just want to default to allow it,” Egan said prior to the vote, addressing the board.

Trustee Joseph Keyes then proposed splitting the vote between the two decisions. He voted for opting in, as did trustee Patrick McHeffey. However, the remaining board members voted to opt out.

A handful of residents spoke out mostly in favor of allowing for storefront sale of cannabis, with some expressing concern for on-site and street consumption.

Resident Andrea Stolz claimed that opting in was for the best interests of the residents who might utilize marijuana for health reasons. Another resident, Katherine Becker, suggested taking advantage of the opportunity before another municipality does.

“I am not against people using cannabis,” resident Chris Vittorio said. “I just don’t want to see people using it out in public, not out on Main Street smoking pot. It’s a bad appearance, in my opinion.”

Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce executive director David Kennedy also spoke, suggesting the village opts in to be ahead of the curve.

“This is an opportunity,” he said, also explaining he understands the board’s decision to wait for more guidance.

Board members against opting in

After the vote, trustees Sal Felice and Susan Brinkman noted their reasoning for opting out at this point in time.

“There are just too many unknowns,” Felice said. “It doesn’t sit right with me. It’s something that should be laid out and spelled out perfectly before we agree to something.”

“I agree with that,” Brinkman added.

In his absence, mayor Paul Pontieri laid out his concerns in a detailed letter. He listed his first reason as being unable to opt back out if they decide to opt in right away; second, the legislation has not been “fully-vetted” yet: third, the money made by opting in is at 1 percent of an unspecified revenue.

“This administration, after 17 years of hard work, may be remembered not for the $600,000,000 worth of investment, but for this single vote,” he wrote.

Board members for opting in

Trustee Joseph Keyes, who voted to opt into the sales portion of the vote, said he felt Patchogue had always gone into decisions with a degree of uncertainty with bold decisions.

“We have to keep up with the times. It’s coming and I don’t see this as something we have to fear,” he explained. “We have made big investments and major investments with no guarantee of an outcome, but we were willing to take the leap of faith. This shouldn’t have a stigma to it; those days are over.”

Trustee Patrick McHeffey, who voted to opt into both decisions, agreed.

“I felt that permitting sales within the village would have allowed us to see the time and place and manner by which we as a community take part in this new sector of the economy, while simultaneously allowing us to benefit from the associated social equity and economic impacts,” he said, though ultimately stating the board decided it was in the best interest of the village to opt out. “I believe in a lively debate on such important issues, but ultimately, we’re all in this together, and I stand behind the decision of the board.”

CBD business urges opting in

Organically Connected is a CBD and medical cannabis dispensary that sells gummies, CBD smoke items as well as lotions, shampoos and much more. It also features kombucha as well as rental scooters for traversing Main Street.

Owner Kevin McKail attended the public hearing in favor of opting in. The decision, he said, would help grow his business, which opened on Railroad Avenue in Patchogue about three years ago.

A lot of customers, he explained, need THC for a more potent and stronger medical use. Allowing for the sale of marijuana in its entirety is a natural progression for his business, he said.

“I am in support of the approval,” he said. “It’s still a natural medication.”

However, he said that his site is not a smoke shop, and he prefers it to remain that way to keep business flowing and maintain privacy for his consumers.

“It’s the same way you would go to a drug store,” he added.

No smoking, too

Under the Clean Air Act regulations, village attorney Brian Egan explained, cannabis has been included as part of the prohibition of tobacco in closed areas. Patchogue Village code also prohibits smoking within 50 feet of a government, library or school facility.

Due to the need to clean up the code to also prohibit cannabis, the board sought to also add in language disallowing smoking of any type on sidewalks on Main Street as well as Village Hall and parks.

Concerned by the proposal, Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce executive director David Kennedy said that he felt that many of the restaurants might experience angry customers who regularly smoke outside.

According to Kennedy, he doesn’t necessarily disagree with the proposal, but rather felt it needed to be discussed more transparently with restaurant owners.

Head of the restaurant committee, James Bonanno, was unaware of the proposal. The committee plans to discuss the issue at the next mid-October meeting.

However, Village Idiot owner John Sarno was vocally against the proposal, stating that it is just another ban. If it is legal, he said, people should have the right to smoke. However, he felt it was the individual’s responsibility to do so respectfully, for marijuana, cigars and cigarettes.

“What else are we going to ban?” he questioned, also asking who will be enforcing it.

Mayor Paul Pontieri addressed the difficulty in enforcement and explained that the discussion needs to be had to find a solution.

“I am not for or against it; we just need to find our responsibility for enforcement,” he said, stating that the government decided to legalize marijuana without coming up with a solution for regulations, a responsibility which has fallen on local municipalities.

As for cigarette smoking, the ban would have to encompass both cigarettes and marijuana on sidewalks.

“This is going to be very difficult to enforce at all levels,” he added.

The proposal was adjourned at the request of the chamber to gather a consensus from Main Street businesses.

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