With time running out on whether the Town of Gardiner wants to allow cannabis lounges and dispensaries within its boundaries, the Town Board got details on cannabis legislation from a consultant in the field at its Aug. 10 monthly meeting.
Martha McDermott, who formerly worked for a medical marijuana company, said under state regulations municipalities have until Dec. 31, 2021, to make a decision on whether or not to allow cannabis lounges and dispensaries in the town.
On March 31, New York made recreational marijuana legal. Towns and villages can’t limit a resident’s right to possess or consume it. But the communities do have the power to prohibit retail outlets from selling cannabis.
Under state regulations, the Town of Gardiner could pass a local law opting out of allowing cannabis lounges and dispensaries in the town. If the town does nothing, Gardiner is automatically in and lounges and dispensaries would be eligible to open starting in 2022.
If Gardiner wants to go with an opt-out law, it has to be approved by Dec. 31. If the town does not opt out by the end of 2021, there won’t be a second chance to prohibit the businesses.
McDermott said many communities outside New York are already financially benefiting from tax revenues produced by the marijuana lounges and dispensaries. She cited the windfall the Town of Lee, located in the Berkshires in the state of Massachusetts, has received since allowing retail cannabis facilities.
McDermott said, for example, that a cannabis dispensary in Lee called “Canna Provisions” has generated enough tax revenue that town residents no longer have to pay property taxes.
“I can’t promise that that’s going to be true everywhere,” McDermott cautioned. “It’s hard to guess what your demand is going to be. We don’t know.”
The Town of Great Barrington (MA) received nearly $1 million in tax revenue from the town’s only retail cannabis store in the first six months of its operation in 2019, according to the Berkshire Edge.
Councilman Franco Carucci said the financial benefits of having dispensaries and lounges in the town is hard to ignore.
“Certainly you can’t shy away from the revenue,” Carucci said. “What we’ve seen with other municipalities, what they’ve been able to accrue in revenue is significant for us to consider. As of right now, I haven’t seen or heard anything that would dissuade me from proceeding. But we’ve got a lot more to learn, unfortunately, in the next four months.”
Councilman David Dukler had some concerns about people driving under the influence after going to a cannabis lounge in town.
“We know that marijuana stays in your system,” Dukler said. “The law says you can’t drive under the influence of marijuana. I would think that reasonable people could see that as a concern.”
Following the meeting, McDermott told the Wallkill Valley Times that it was important to meet with municipalities and provide information regarding cannabis and regulations regarding dispensaries and lounges.
“The willingness to engage on the topic of cannabis is definitely progressive,” she said of the Town Board’s response. “And I don’t mean that in a political way. But I mean forward thinking. My role is as an educator. Not as an advocate. I’m informing rather than endorsing.”
The board will now decide whether it will schedule a public hearing to opt out of the state law that allows adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries and lounges or take no action, which would effectively allow them in the Town of Gardiner.
In other board news, Supervisor Marybeth Majestic reported that the town had received its first mortgage tax payment of $191,000. The town had budgeted $160,000 for 2021.
“That’s $31,000 more than we anticipated in revenue for the whole year,” Majestic said.
The board scheduled a public hearing for the long-studied short-term rental law for Sept. 14, pending a few minor changes to the draft by Town Attorney Allyson Phillips.
The Town Board set a cap of 100 short-term rental licenses.
Also, short-term rentals will be limited to five bedrooms with no more than 10 occupants at a time. This includes a capacity of two guests per bedroom. Children under the age of 16 shall not be counted as guests.
Under the Purpose and Intent section of the proposed local law on short-term rentals, the law reads:
“The Town Board finds that it is in the interest of public health, safety and welfare to implement a registration and license requirement for the use of dwellings or dwelling units as short-term rentals within the Town of Gardiner. The regulations adopted herein are intended as an interim, stop-gap measure to ensure short-term rentals in the Town are registered and required to meet certain minimum standards while the Town undertakes a thorough review of its Comprehensive Plan and considers the adoption of zoning amendments and/or other police power enactments that are necessary to ensure that the use of residential structures as short-term rentals accords with the Town’s plan for the future development of the community.”
Also, it reads that the “process will include a review and evaluation of the Ulster County Housing Action Plan that is currently under development and any recommendations contained herein.”
The Town Board is currently reviewing a draft of an updated Comprehensive Plan.
Dukler said the local law on short-term rentals has been studied by the Town Board for more than two years.
“If we’re serious about trying to both allow short-term rentals and protect quality of life that’s an area that I’m going to press that we address going forward,” he said. “In a town like Gardiner where we have about 2,100 homes, you take a hundred (for short-term rentals) off the market that’s not insignificant. Someone has to protect what I think we can agree with is the ethos of the community going forward and I think the board has made a good start. If it was a perfect world, this wasn’t a law I would have written. But it’s the one we have and we’re going to move forward with it.”