CANTON — St. Lawrence County Planning Board members say there are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the state’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.
How would law enforcement determine if someone was operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana?
How would the law impact drug-free workplaces?
What would happen if a person tried to cross the border into Canada with the legal amount authorized under state law, but not federal law?
Those were some of the questions planning board members had following a presentation by Planner II Dakota Casserly this week.
In March, New York became the 15th state to sign a law that allowed a regulated and taxed cannabis industry. But, Mr. Casserly said, retail sales are not expected to begin until late 2022 or early 2023.
“The state will be the determining factor in terms of licenses. Local governments can focus on time, place and manner regulations if they choose to do so,” he said.
Under the law, an individual 21 or older can possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 25 grams of concentrated cannabis for consumption, as well as paraphernalia.
“So, what does this mean at the local level? A big component is the local opt out of retail sales. The focus is on retail sales, it’s not cultivation or growing,” Mr. Casserly said.
He said cities, towns and villages can opt out of allowing retail dispensaries or on-site consumption establishments locating and operating within their boundaries. They must make the decision by Dec. 31.
“Local towns can opt out by permissive referendum on or before the end of December They cannot opt out after that. They can opt back in at any time,” he said.
Mr. Casserly said while cities, towns and villages can choose to opt out, they must have a petition period for the electorate to vote on it under Section 24 of Municipal Home Rule Law. If the village board passes a law, the electorate has an opportunity to approve or deny the law.
“If a petition is not brought forward, that opt out passes on its own without the electorate weighing in. The petition piece can be brought about by the electorate or, in the village case, the village board can bring that petition as well. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the county, if we’ll see some of that,” he said.
If municipalities decide not to opt out, they can regulate retail dispensaries and/or on-site consumption sites, “provided that they do not make the operation unreasonably impracticable as determined by the (state) Cannabis Control Board,” Mr. Casserly said.
Anyone who plans to set up a dispensary must comply with local zoning regulations such as special use permits, site plan approval and adherence to building codes.
“Adult use applicants must notify local governments of their plans at least 30 days prior. The local governments will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed application. Law enforcement may inspect all licensed locations in a manner that does not interrupt ordinary business,” Mr. Casserly said.
If local governments decide to opt out, they will not be entitled to any revenue. There will be a 9% state excise and 4% excise, with 1% of that going to the county and 3% designated for a city, town or village.
Individuals can have up to three mature and three immature cannabis plants, up to six per household, and they must be securely stored.
“More definition of how store is is still to be determined. It looks like we’ll have some more defining language for personal cultivation in 2023 or even 2024. It’s going to take some time for sure,” he said.
The law prohibits discrimination against individuals who are taking part in a permitted use under the cannabis law. For instance, he said, landlords aren’t supposed to discriminate specifically over that type of use, giving renters more protection.
“I believe if a landlord has smoking restrictions or provisions on their property that applies to a cigarette smoker, that applies to a cannabis user as well,” Mr. Casserly said.
Responding to a question about driving under the influence, he said that was “still to be determined. Driving impaired is still set in stone. But how they’re going to test for it, that’s not determined yet.”
Board member Cherie Shatraw said she felt the Dec. 31 deadline to opt out was too quick, not giving municipalities enough time to explore their options. But county Planning Office Director Jason C. Pfotenhauer said, one option was to opt out, giving the municipality more time to study the law, and then opt in.
Mr. Pfotenhauer questioned how cannabis use would be addressed in the workplace, including those that had designated smoking areas. The county was one of those organizations that allowed smoking in designated areas.
“Those employees couldn’t go on their morning break and smoke cannabis and go back to work and still be in compliance with county drug laws, I wouldn’t think, or does this override that drug-free workplace designation?” he wondered.
Federal law versus state law could also come into play, according to board member Brian Murray.
“We will have a unique situation here, especially in St. Lawrence County. We have a number of federal buildings and also federal border crossing areas. Federal law still prohibits the use or consumption of cannabis and federal obviously supersedes state law,” he said. “If you want to go to Brockville for Chinese and go across the border and you just happen to have your three ounces, you might be spending a little bit of extra time from what I understand of this. It’s going to be a unique situation trying to walk that tightrope in some areas.”