NORTHAMPTON – When asked why he thinks his Town Board voted unanimously on Wednesday to opt-out of New York state’s legalization of retail marijuana businesses, Supervisor James Groff said the answer is simple: “It’s not legal.”
“Federally, it’s not legal, so I believe that it shouldn’t be,” Groff said. “Because it’s not legal. I don’t agree with it being legal statewide.”
Northampton, which encompasses the northern shores of the Great Sacandaga Lake and includes the Adirondack lakeside village of Northville, is the second rural town in the Republican-dominated parts of Fulton and Montgomery counties to reject the state’s recent legalization of retail marijuana sales. The first was the town of Amsterdam in Montgomery County, where the Town Board under Supervisor Tom DiMezza voted 4-0 on Monday to put the matter before the voters on Nov. 2 as a public referendum during the general election. Residents will decide if the town should opt-out or allow the state’s legalization of recreational cannabis sales to go into effect after Dec. 31.
Any municipality that doesn’t opt-out by Dec. 31 will miss its chance to do so, and retail marijuana businesses could in theory open, but only if they receive a license from the state.
A five-member appointed board, three members being chosen by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will be tasked with crafting the “Office of Cannabis Management,” the state agency charged with developing the regulatory framework for businesses to grow, sell and distribute marijuana products throughout the state. The panel is expected to be put in place before the start of the summer.
The “Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act” already spells out some elements of how it will work: racial minorities negatively affected by the state’s past prohibition of marijuana will be given the chance to get up to 50 percent of the retail cannabis business licenses. Bars and liquor stores will be prohibited from getting licenses to sell cannabis products and rules will be established for how medical marijuana growers — such as Vireo Health located in Fulton County’s Perth Technology Park — and micro-cannabis producers, like the proposed $30 million E29 Labs in the village of Canajoharie, will be allowed or prohibited from integrating cannabis production with recreational marijuana retail.
A recent market study published by the MPG Consulting for the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association has estimated New York state could support a $1.2 billion regulated cannabis market by 2023, which might grow to $4.2 billion by 2027.The state is hoping that will lead to $350 million or more per year in state tax revenue.
Groff said he’s wary of the projections. Like DiMezza, Groff is a retired police officer and his board includes former Fulton County District Attorney William Gritsavage. He said he knows recreational retail marijanaua, its possession, its use and even the right to plant it and grow it is either legal now or soon will be all around his town, including neighboring states and in Canada, but he views this as a negative trend.
“I just don’t agree with it. I’m not going to get into the specifics, but the rest of my board doesn’t agree with it either — it’s a drug,” he said. “We don’t believe it should be legalized. I don’t believe it’s going to be that big of a financial gain.”
Northampton and the other rural towns of Fulton County share sales taxes revenues, while the cities of Johnstown and Gloversville do not, which Groff admits will mean Northampton will benefit from retail marijuana sales elsewhere in the county if a retail business is ever granted a license there. But he doesn’t think it will be that much.
“The actual money from the marijuana, it’s not that big a deal,” he said. “I’m concerned with what this is going to do throughout the state. It’s still illegal, federally. I don’t believe in it. We’re just not in favor of it.”
Groff said he believes the illegal sale of recreational marijuana products will continue in his town and throughout the state regardless of licensed retail being allowed in some places.
“You’re always going to have the illegal element, because the state is taxing it right to death to the point where people probably won’t be buying it legal — they’ll buy it illegally,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense. We have enough trouble dealing with drunk drivers, let alone high drivers.”
The Town Board will hold a public hearing at its June 16 meeting for the local opt-out of retail marijuana. The hearing will trigger a 30-day period during which it will be possible for a resident to circulate a “permissive referendum” to block the opt-out. If no town resident successfully circulates a petition calling for a voter referendum on the issue within 30 days, the ban will go into effect.