The fact that “once inside, you can never leave” makes the board members of Le Roy Town and Village cautious of any possible involvement in the state’s new Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act.
Officials from both governing bodies gathered with about a dozen residents in the City Hall courtroom on Monday evening for a 30-minute discussion on the recently passed law preventing recreational marijuana use for residents aged 21 and older.
The MRTA also opens the door to retail pharmacies and on-site consumption rooms, which are likely a few years away from implementation.
“Part of it that worries me is that when you’re there, you’re there forever and can’t log out,” said James Farnholz, supervisor of Le Roy Town. “But when you’re outside, you can jump in if it works (somewhere else).”
The terminology “opt-in” and “opt-out” applies to cities, towns and villages that may or may not want to have pot stores or lounges within their borders. Participation means that the community is entitled to the tax revenue that the state imposes on the sale of marijuana; an opt-out could lead to a public referendum that could overturn this decision.
The decision deadline is December 31 of this year in any case. But with the state still trying to figure out all of the rules and regulations related to the law, many local government leaders seem in no rush.
Le Roy Village Mayor Greg Rogers said he was part of that group.
“We’re going to take as much time as possible – until the end of December – because we believe the landscape will change eight or nine times by then,” he said.
As previously reported on The Batavian, the state is establishing the Office of Cannabis Management & Marijuana Control Board, which will have an executive director and will be housed within the New York State Liquor Authority.
The office will implement regulations for production, licensing, retailing, packaging, labeling and use, with first sales not expected until 2022 or early 2023.
Currently, 18 states plus the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam have legalized cannabis for adult use. Another 13 states and the US Virgin Islands have decriminalized its use.
Farnholz said he did not support any local law that would replace the fact that marijuana is a class 1 drug at the federal level.
“If you unsubscribe, you can take a little more time along the way and see what other churches are like. You would then have the option to opt in or, in my opinion, the federal government would remove it as a class one drug and legalize it at the federal level – for me that changes the discussion a lot, ”he said.
He said the pharmacy or consumption point must not be within 150 feet of a school or 60 feet of a place of worship and that restriction – if not changed – would mean the main street in the village would be down due to the number of churches along route 5.
In any case, said Farnholz, the focus that leads to a decision should be on what the law would mean for communities, rather than the morals of legalized marijuana.
“I don’t want to take to the streets if legalized marijuana is good or bad,” he said. “We all have our opinions.”
Whiting said the communities are limited in what they can only transfer to the two areas – pharmacies or on-site consumption rooms.
“In addition, the hands of the municipalities are tied and restricted,” he said.
Rogers said he was convinced “somewhere in Genesee County someone is going to sell it,” but as for Le Roy, he said the village council would discuss the possibility of a public referendum “to let the people decide if” it is something they want. “
Local law is subject to a permissive referendum, Whiting said, which means there should be a referendum if 10 percent of voters who last voted in the previous gubernatorial election sign a petition.
Several issues came up during the discussion, including the tax plan, drug impairment recognition, information from the state of Colorado, increased public safety costs, and the involvement of federal law enforcement agencies.
Distribution of tax revenue
Whiting pointed out that there is a 25/75 split between Genesee County and the community that allows the pharmacy and premises on-site.
Specifically, the sales tax for cannabis will be 13 percent, with 9 percent going to the state, 3 percent to the host community and 1 percent to the district. In addition, an excise tax is levied on THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol).
David Damico, a resident and school teacher, said he was all for tax revenue but was concerned because he was with teenagers all the time.
“I think whatever we do tonight, whoever wants it will get it,” he said. “We’re almost within walking distance of several villages that might choose to participate, including the big one down the road (Batavia) which is much bigger than us. So I’m not really sure if anyone will be put off not including it in the books. “
Farnholz replied, “I’m not sure we have put anyone off since 1975,” added that he had worked as an educator for 30 years and shares Damico’s concerns.
Rogers said, “As for taxation and revenue, I don’t think our boards of directors should make a decision that assumes they’ll get a boatload of tax revenue … this is a bigger problem than the social issue.”
Recognizing People Affected by Pot
Farnholz said the local judges he spoke to have “great concern” about the lack of standards in testing for impairment.
Whiting said law enforcement courses are available to learn how to identify and recognize impairment from marijuana, but they are very time consuming.
Alderman John Armitage mentioned that it takes a year to train a police officer to become a Drug Recognition Expert.
“Paying this officer overtime, hiring additional manpower – that’s astronomical – and we’re not talking about one or two deputies here … you would have to have several deputies trained in DRE,” he said. “And the amount of tax you think you will get is not what you will get (due to increased spending on public safety and related services).”
Stone on Colorado: Unintended Consequences
Rochelle Stein, chairman of the Genesee County’s Legislature, told board members that the county has no authority over this legislation until providing information from Colorado, one of the states that legalized cannabis.
“Public safety costs in this state have increased from selling marijuana, and public safety costs are borne by taxpayers when those costs go up (here),” she said. “Mental health, physical health – those costs have gone up in Colorado too. By the way, they’ll also tell you that the Colorado cannabis black market has benefited greatly.
“If there are some lessons to be learned, I would suggest we take a look at Colorado and see their experiences there. I would absolutely appreciate the opportunity to unsubscribe and get whatever you can for the future. If I were in your place, it would do that. “
Armitage agreed with Stein, adding that board members must look at these other states before making a decision.
“I’ll tell you that Colorado’s accident rate has increased over 400 percent since legalization, and that costs have grown faster than revenues,” he said.
Public safety costs are a major concern
Armitage compared the MRTA to the influx of casinos, which in many cases has increased crime and public safety budgets.
“This is one of the worst ideas the state has come up with, especially when other states have done it and you can see their numbers – it just doesn’t work,” he said.
Stein also stated that the dogs used as K-9 officers and their handlers would have to be retrained, which is another cost factor.
Local resident Nikki Calhoun said hiring two or three more village policemen would “create significant costs for the village and which will eventually have to be passed on (to taxpayers).”
“And of course the village can’t respond to other cities, and Genesee County has limited resources for the sheriffs on this side of the county, so I think you’re going to have more problems,” she said.
Fed involvement in question
Whiting said states will be on their own to enforce it.
“I suspect the federal government will very rarely enforce marijuana use,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll ban large amounts of it coming into this country, but my guess is that US law firms don’t want to prosecute anyone for personal marijuana use.”
Resident Jay Beaumont said that the federal government will eventually leave it to the states and called it “ridiculous” that federal agencies have classified marijuana as a class one drug.
He also said he saw many changes from New York State ahead of the end of the year deadline to sign in or out.
Will communities line up to sign up?
The point was raised that other municipalities will opt and benefit from the tax revenue.
Fernholz saw the subject differently.
“If you look at other states, the governorship’s fantasy that this is a great economic boon for the communities is just that – a fantasy,” he said. “You are not going to get the financial blessing you think you can get from a (cash only) dispenser. Because in all honesty, people will grow their own or the black market is booming to avoid the 25, 35 or 40 percent tax. “
Beaumont asked if you could vote on how the residents felt about it.
“We could do it two ways,” replied Fernwood. “Someone could come up with a permissive referendum that would be binding, or we could … have a (non-binding) vote to judge the feeling of community (like the city did with the ambulance a few years ago).”
Whiting said he expected more details to be released on a regular basis, which “will give us many of these answers.”