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Nine Percent of New York Towns, Villages Opt Out of Retail, Consumption Venues



Conversations surrounding New York’s recently implemented cannabis reform measures often focus on the abundant opportunities and soon-to-be gargantuan industry within the state. Though, according to data provided by the Association of Towns of New York State, based on filings with the state’s Department of State, nearly one in 10 towns and villages have signaled they are banning both cannabis stores and consumption sites.

So far, 84 towns—nine percent of the towns in the state—are enacting laws to opt out of the retail sale of cannabis and on-site consumption venues, according to testimony from Research Director for the Association of Towns Chris Anderson, reported by Auburn Pub.

A similar figure stands for New York’s villages, with 46 villages—nine percent of total villages in the state—also opting out of both retail stores and on-site consumption venues. Anderson said that five towns and four villages have opted out of on-site consumption only.

These municipalities are effectively banning these cannabis establishments, at least initially, by opting out. Though, Anderson said the numbers indicate that “there is not a major wave of opt-outs sweeping across the state.”

While these current numbers are a good indication of the road ahead, they do not represent the final numbers for opt-outs in the state. Anderson indicated that many towns will meet only twice more before 2022, and while he and the association expect to see more activity, he said, “It’s certainly pretty late in the game,” adding that by the current numbers, the opt-out percentage statewide is expected to remain fairly low.

It’s worth noting that opting out speaks specifically to retail and consumption facilities, and there is only so much each town and village has control over, being that cannabis is now legal for possession and consumption by adults 21 and older.

Karl Sleight, a veteran Albany attorney who has advised prospective applicants regarding cannabis licensing, said that county governments can’t opt out of cultivation, processing and transportation, for example. And interest in licensing by the newly-implemented Cannabis Control Board (CCB) is only increasing, while the state still must put regulations in place.

“I’ve done over 100 video conferences since the law passed,” Sleight said. “There is more traction and traffic on this issue than any other one I have seen. It’s not often a market like this comes online. It’s almost like it was when Prohibition ended. It is the same dynamic, with a huge pent-up demand.”

While the law to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state was only approved in March by former Governor Andew Cuomo, the road to jumpstarting the blossoming industry in New York has already been trying. Governor Kathy Hochul picked up where Cuomo left off, ensuring that moving forward to launch the state’s legal cannabis industry was one of her major priorities.

A Hochul official said in October the governor has worked with lawmakers to “move swiftly” and “work expeditiously” on full legalization, though a tentative time frame for when that would happen was not provided.

During a recent cannabis symposium, Tremaine Wright, chairperson of the five-member CCB, relayed that licenses likely won’t be issued until 2023 “at the earliest” and that the CCB is currently working on an 18-month timeline to write the state’s regulations which will ultimately dictate the state’s cannabis market.

Given the time it could take for the state to launch the highly-anticipated industry, it could also leave these same villages and towns a chance to switch gears, especially as they see the revenue potential that could be available to their communities. Patrick McCarthy, a lobbyist representing PharmaCann, believes the numbers are likely to shift in this direction as the state moves forward.

“The Office of Cannabis Management has gotten off to a very fast start, and that should provide additional confidence to local officials and law enforcement that this is being done in a thoughtful way,” McCarthy said. “You only get one chance to set up a brand new industry.”