To stay or to go: NY gets clearest view of local marijuana opt-outs after deadline

·3 min read

The haze over where marijuana can be legally bought and sold in New York became clearer on Tuesday as most localities decided they're all in on retail sales and consumption lounge licenses, state data showed.

Just 10% of cities across the state and about a third of municipalities have opted out of all cannabis sales in their jurisdictions before the Dec. 31 deadline, New York cannabis regulators said Tuesday.

Still, regulators are focusing on communities that are a part of the program and hoping that those who voluntarily withdrew from the program will reconsider.

“We’re really encouraged by the energy building around New York’s forthcoming adult-use cannabis market,” said Cannabis Control Board Chair Tremaine Wright. “New Yorkers will have an accessible adult-use cannabis market poised to generate billions of dollars in sales as well as create thousands of jobs.”

Where did communities opt out?

Allan Gandelman of Head and Heal in Cortland in a field of plants which will be harvested for CBD. Head and Heal currently grows and distributes a successful line of CBD products, and is planning to grow and sell marijuana also. Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021.
Allan Gandelman of Head and Heal in Cortland in a field of plants which will be harvested for CBD. Head and Heal currently grows and distributes a successful line of CBD products, and is planning to grow and sell marijuana also. Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021.

Last year, localities were given the option to pass a law to withhold either both or one of the two licenses under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the state’s cannabis law that was approved in March.

But communities could only do so before Dec. 31. And they could not opt out of marijuana as a whole. Investors could still get cultivation, delivery and other types of marijuana licenses in that jurisdiction.

A total of 600 villages, towns and cities chose to opt out, with nearly all of them deciding to forgo both licenses. Counties with a notably high number of municipalities that have opted out include Jefferson, Westchester, Suffolk, Steuben, Nassau, Orange and Dutchess.

Many towns and villages used the opt-out option as a means of expressing their discontent with areas of the law they did not approve of, such as public consumption provisions.

Other leaders said that they were not swayed by potential losses of tax revenue in forgoing the two licenses, and weren’t pleased by the lack of marijuana regulations put out by the Cannabis Control Board.

"The opt-out was the responsible thing to do, not knowing what laws are in place and how they will be interpreted by the controlling board," Middletown Mayor Joseph DeStefano said last month.

Strains of CBD at Head and Heal in Cortland. The company currently grows and distributes a successful line of CBD products and is planning to grow and sell marijuana also. Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021.
Strains of CBD at Head and Heal in Cortland. The company currently grows and distributes a successful line of CBD products and is planning to grow and sell marijuana also. Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021.

But it might not all be said and done. Those communities that opted out of the license can reverse course as more cannabis regulations are revealed. Communities that opted in can’t change their decision.

Further opt-ins are expected “as the new cannabis industry comes to life, reduces harm with safe, tested products and grows the economy equitably," said Chris Alexander, executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management.

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Next up? Equitable cannabis business

Cannabis plants which will be harvested for CBD growing at at Head and Heal in Cortland. The business currently grows and distributes a successful line of CBD products and is planning to  expand into marijuana in the next  year. Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021.
Cannabis plants which will be harvested for CBD growing at at Head and Heal in Cortland. The business currently grows and distributes a successful line of CBD products and is planning to expand into marijuana in the next year. Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021.

Since many municipalities have made their decision, for now, cannabis regulators are now shifting their focus to a potential New York Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund.

The $200 million private-public partnership was included in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s State of the State address. It will help fund the opening and operation of dispensaries by eligible applicants from communities impacted “by disproportionate policing during the decades-long cannabis prohibition," according to the Office of Cannabis Management.

The state’s marijuana law set a goal of 50% of marijuana licenses going to social equity applicants, such as disabled veterans and women.

“In New York, we’re putting equity applicants in a position for success as the industry launches – not after,” Alexander said.

Tiffany Cusaac-Smith covers race and justice for the USA TODAY Network of New York. Click here for her latest stories. Follow her on Twitter @T_Cusaac.

This article originally appeared on New York State Team: 600 New York localities opt out of marijuana sales

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