Lumberland, Callicoon take cautious approach to cannabis legalization

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 7/28/21

GLEN SPEY, NY — The public hearing on Lumberland’s cannabis opt-out law was brief.

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Lumberland, Callicoon take cautious approach to cannabis legalization

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GLEN SPEY, NY — The public hearing on Lumberland’s cannabis opt-out law was brief.

Supervisor Jenny Mellan asked for comments from the crowd. One voice spoke up: “Good move.” Otherwise, there was only silence.

The board passed the law in similar taciturn fashion. A consensus formed quickly—we don’t need business of that kind here—and the motion passed.

While not all towns have passed an opt-out law as of yet, several are considering it.

The Town of Callicoon discussed just that at the most recent meeting of its town board, together with the Sullivan County sheriff and undersheriff.

What opting-out accomplishes

The law does not opt Lumberland—or any town in the county—out of the statewide legalization of cannabis.

“Municipalities cannot opt-out of adult use legalization,” states an informational page on the state Office of Cannabis Management website. “Adult-use cannabis possession and use by adults 21 years of age or older... is legal in New York State.”

The terms of the legalization do, however, allow cities, towns and villages to opt-out of a portion of the law, that portion which permits retail dispensaries or on-site consumption lounges to operate. Towns cannot ban the possession of cannabis within their boundaries, but they can make it illegal to run a cannabis dispensary or a smoking lounge.

The legalization law allows towns to opt out at any point up until December 31, 2021. While a town can opt back in if it opted-out prior to that date, a town cannot opt out after that date passes.

Sullivan County concerns

While the existence of a dispensary in any given town may seem a minor point beside the broader topic of legalization, an individual town’s decision can have major consequences.

In choosing to opt out, the Lumberland Town Board expressed concerns over the impaired driving that could result from dispensaries or smoking lounges within the town’s borders. Even if the town only allowed dispensaries, said Mellan, purchasers of cannabis likely would not wait until they got home to partake.

That concern had also been brought up by Sullivan County Sheriff Michael Schiff, who spoke together with undersheriff Eric Chaboty at a town board meeting in the Town of Callicoon on July 12.

In rural areas without public transportation options, they said, opening a dispensary would lead inevitably to impaired driving. Together with the lack of an effective testing equivalent to the breathalyzer, that impaired driving could be dangerous.

Research is still ongoing concerning the effects of cannabis legalization on accident rates in states that have legalized cannabis. While the data is unclear, many studies have suggested a correlation between cannabis legalization and a higher rate of traffic accidents, particularly in Colorado.

The sheriff also expressed concerns that the decision to legalize cannabis was driven by the state’s desire to make a profit. “I think they’re jumping the gun,” he said. “I think they’re looking at the money.”

Schiff worried that, with fentanyl an ongoing and pressing concern, the state getting into the drug business could turn out poorly. The black market could undercut the legal market, without any good way of telling legal marijuana from illegal, and illegal marijuana could easily be laced with fentanyl.

The sheriff’s most pressing concern, one shared with the Callicoon Town Board, was simply that legalization in New York was new. There wasn’t enough data yet to determine whether allowing dispensaries and smoking lounges would prove valuable or catastrophic, and he suggested opting out, allowing that data to be collected elsewhere in the state.

“I’m glad you’re taking a cautious approach,” said Schiff.

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