Kent lawmakers set a public listening to on marijuana laws

Kent Town Supervisor Maureen Fleming

The Kent city council is likely to attempt to ban retail marijuana dispensaries within the community, but plans to hold a hearing next month to see where residents stand on the issue first.

With Governor Andrew Cuomo legalizing recreational marijuana earlier this year, the new state law allows cities and villages to oppose the legislation and ban sales of the drug within their borders until December 31st. Municipalities can also regulate where and when marijuana can be sold by passing new zoning laws.

However, a municipality that votes to opt out can repeal the law if the electoral body later changes its mind.

Supervisor Maureen Fleming said while she doesn’t know how marijuana sales would affect crime or local business, whether or not they allow pharmacies is a major concern for board members. She suggested sending a poll to the community and holding a public hearing before the board makes decisions.

“I’ve made a pretty strong decision against it, no matter what a poll or public opinion says,” Councilor Chris Ruthven said at the May 18 meeting of the city council. “In this case, I will respond to my personal preference and will vote in favor of deciding against it. There is no public pressure to change my mind about this. “

Alderman Paul Denbaum noted that he also tended to opt out, stating that the income from the sale of marijuana would have no impact on the city budget.

The state plans to set up a cannabis management office to enforce the new marijuana regulations. Cuomo has forecast that New York state will generate $ 350 million annually in tax revenue from adult cannabis.

The state excise tax on retail sales of marijuana is 9 percent and the local excise tax is 4 percent. Communities that allow marijuana stores to open will receive 75 percent of local tax revenue under the new law. Counties receive 25 percent of the local tax.

For every $ 1 million worth of marijuana sold in Putnam County, the community’s profits it sold would split $ 30,000. However, if a local government votes against rejecting retail pharmacies in their area, they will not receive any tax revenue from them.

“With our budget in the millions, you’d have to have pharmacies making millions and billions of dollars, but you’d have to see massive sales to have a real impact on the budget,” Denbaum said. “Sales tax sounds great, but we will likely put more money into the fund balance that we don’t spend in a given fiscal year than we would make after-tax under that bill.”

Since the law was passed in March, District Leader Mary Ellen Odell has urged community leaders “to think long and hard before allowing marijuana to be sold within their borders.”

Odell previously described the new law as “stealing money” from the state at the expense of the health and safety of local communities just to fill a budget gap.

“I understand that due to the mismanagement of the NYS budget in the past, the state wants to generate a new source of income, but at what cost? The average person will look at marijuana legalization and say, “It doesn’t affect me.” But it is naive to believe that consumption among our young people will not increase, ”Odell said in April. “Will our roads be safer? It’s like your parents always told you, “Just because your friends do it doesn’t make it right.”

Police chief Kevin Owens warned the board that a marijuana dispensary would be of no benefit to the city. While he claimed selling weed probably wouldn’t generate millions of dollars, he said there is no scientific way of testing marijuana use in motorists similar to alcohol with a breathalyzer.

“The more we make it available to adults, the more it will be available to young people and the more problems we’ll have whether it’s driving a car or acting,” Owens said. “It’s legal, we’re good at it, but (pharmacies) are going to cause problems for our community I think.”

While board members shared their opposition to the state law, councilor Jaime McGlasson said she was against the law until a resident made an argument advocating those who use cannabis for medicinal purposes. She said that marijuana use is limited not only to those who are “stoned”, but also to those who need it for medical reasons.

Alderman William Heustis advised McGlasson to “do your homework” ahead of the June 1st public hearing. The subject could lead to a heated debate.

“I think we have to remember that we are not changing the law,” said Fleming. “It’s already legal. If we don’t have a pharmacy here, it doesn’t mean people in Kent town don’t smoke pots or do those things that are directly related to legalization.”