Bill McKenna says he had a suggestion for a local entrepreneur who recently inquired about the possibility of opening a marijuana shop in Woodstock.
Perhaps call the product “Woodstock Weed,” the town supervisor said.
McKenna, like other municipal leaders in Ulster County, is starting to field questions from people who want to operate dispensaries once the use of recreational marijuana by adults becomes legal in New York state.
State legislators approved, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed, New York’s “Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act” in March. The law takes full effect in January 2022.
One element of the law is that municipalities can opt out of allowing dispensaries within their borders, though Woodstock, long known for its bohemian lifestyle and relaxed attitude toward marijuana use, is unlikely to go that route. (Municipalities that do opt out can opt back in at any time.)
“Folks are coming in or emailing or calling wanting to know where the town (Woodstock) is going to stand on it,” McKenna said. “I just assume nobody would raise an issue about it.”
But McKenna said there could be stumbling blocks to having pot dispensaries on Tinker Street, the town’s main commercial strip.
The state’s new law says dispensaries must be at least 200 feet away from houses of worship and at least 500 feet from schools. There are no schools on the commercial portion of Tinker Street, but there are several houses of worship, so placement could prove problematic and there could be “voids” in where such shops can operate, McKenna said.
New Paltz Supervisor Neil Bettez is pretty certain his town is all in, too.
“We have not discussed it as a board, [but] I have discussed it with individuals on the board, and I don’t think there is a strong desire to opt out,” Bettez said.
Bettez said marijuana is “not my thing,” personally, but that he thinks the town should allow pot shops.
Bettez said his main concern, at first, was that municipalities were not going to benefit from tax revenues generated by marijuana sales. That concern was mollified, though, by the final language in the state law.
The law says there will be a 13% excise tax on cannabis sales, with portions going to municipalities that host retail dispensaries. Those that opt out will not receive that benefit.
Pot shops in New Paltz would not be allowed to sell to most SUNY New Paltz students, as the new law legalizes recreational marijuana use only for people 21 and older, and the majority of college undergrad students are younger than that.
And even students who are able to get marijuana still would be barred from using it on the New Paltz campus. The reason: SUNY receives federal funding and marijuana still is classified as an illegal substance at the federal level.
Kingston Mayor Steve Noble said it will be up to the Common Council to decide whether the city opts out of hosting pot shops but that he supports allowing them.
“I don’t believe that the city of Kingston should consider opting out,” Noble said in an email. “Marijuana [laws] and other low-level offenses have primarily impacted minorities and have been used to disproportionately incarcerate marginalized communities. Having marijuana dispensaries will bring in additional tax revenue to invest back in our community and will help to right some of the social inequities previous drug laws inflicted. “
Still, marijuana shops popping up on the local retail landscape is far from reality.
The state Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) has to set up the process for obtaining retail marijuana licenses and then solicit applications and ultimately issue the licenses.
State Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who favors the legalization, says details still have to be worked out.
“Establishing the necessary components of the Office of Cannabis Management, including the license application process, can take up to two years,” Cahill, D-Kingston, said in an email.
The assemblyman’s website says there will be target areas for dispensaries.
“The OCM will actively promote social and economic equity applicants who have been harmed by the prohibition of cannabis for adult-use licenses, establishing a goal of awarding 50% of licenses to social and economic equity applicants,” the site reads.