BALDWINSVILLE — Residents of the town of Lysander sounded off about New York State’s new law legalizing adult recreational use of cannabis at the June 3 meeting of the Lysander Town Board.
Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), municipalities must decide if they will allow establishments to sell cannabis products or permit on-site consumption. Municipalities who wish to opt out of allowing the sale or consumption of cannabis must pass a local law by the end of the year.
Several residents spoke in favor of allowing dispensaries in the town, but opinions varied about on-premises consumption.
“Personally, I’m in favor of a dispensary in the town of Lysander,” resident Steve Aiken said, citing the benefit of additional tax revenue for the town.
As for smoking lounges, Aiken said, “I guess I’m not for that. I don’t even know what the appeal of something like that would be.”
Former highway superintendent Gene Dinsmore said he objected to legalization of cannabis, but acknowledged the town would benefit from the tax revenue.
“I personally am appalled that we even have this law, but the governor and the legislature put it into law so we might as well not hide our eyes from it,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything you or any of us can do to stop it, so we might as well take advantage.”
Resident Cindy Clarke agreed that the tax revenue from cannabis sales would be a boon.
“Now that it’s legal people are going to smoke it anyways. They’re going to buy it somewhere anyways,” she said. “I grew up in the heyday and I never saw it as much of a gateway drug or anything like that. … It’s here, it’s now, we have to deal with it and we might as well take advantage of the benefits it could potentially bring into our community.”
Clarke said she was “not crazy about” establishments allowing on-site consumption.
Resident Gail Tosh, who in the past has run for both Lysander Town Board and NYS Assembly, said she recently completed a cross-country road trip. She offered her observations about recreational cannabis use in other states.
“This is a hot topic in a lot of different places that I visited,” she said. “One of the things that was a problem was when people did purchase their marijuana, there was no place for them to consume it. If there was a place to consume it, people would come.”
Resident Mark Rubin said his medical marijuana card changed his life.
“It’s adult use. It’s not a toy. It’s better than alcohol,” Rubin said. “It relieves stress, pain, anxiety, cancer problems. It’s an amazing thing versus the chemicals [in pharmaceuticals].”
In addition to the health benefits Rubin cited, Matt Hunt, vice president of Heritage Insurance Agency and president of the Greater Baldwinsville Chamber of Commerce, said recreational cannabis could boost tourism and stimulate the local economy. He shared what he has learned through the insurance industry about the effect legalization has on communities.
“Studies actually show in other states that have legalized cannabis, the areas they’ve put dispensaries and such in have actually improved quite a bit,” he said. “Whatever concerns there are about the ‘bad element’ there might be from legalizing it, you’re essentially getting rid of that element. You’re not bringing in the guy on the street corner. You’re going to have doctors or business professionals.”
Town Supervisor Bob Wicks said he recently spoke with the owner of a cannabis dispensary in Worcester, Massachusetts, the appearance of which he said “looks like an Apple Store.”
Kevin Rode, a resident who has run for town board and town clerk in the past, said the town should consult with the village of Baldwinsville, as part of the village is located in Lysander.
“The commerce-part/business-part [of the town] is more in the village, and if the village decides to opt out, it puts the town in a unique area. Where would you put the zoning?” Rode asked.
Wicks said the town has not yet discussed the issue with the village, but he noted that villages can put the issue to referendum while towns cannot.
“The law is a little convoluted,” he said.
Town Attorney Tony Rivizzigno said a municipality can amend its zoning laws to allow dispensaries. Municipalities can only opt out of allowing retail establishments and smoking lounges by the end of the year, but towns, villages and cities that opt out now could opt in later. A municipality may not amend its zoning laws in such a way that would specifically exclude dispensaries or smoking bars.
As for on-site consumption, Wicks said the question remains for law enforcement to determine how cannabis impairs a driver. He said the difference between a bar that serves alcohol and a smoking lounge is that a person might have one or two drinks and still be able to operate a car, but the same might not be true after smoking a joint or consuming edibles.
MRTA reaffirms that driving while impaired by cannabis is still a misdemeanor. The law says an academic institution will conduct research on technology to detect impairment by cannabis.