The Town of North Castle became one of the first municipalities in Westchester County to opt out from allowing retail marijuana sales and consumption sites within its borders last week.
Preferring to wait and see how the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act works out in other communities, the Town Board unanimously voted against allowing for retail dispensaries and places to be used, at least initially.
Supervisor Michael Schiliro said the way the law is written, it makes more sense to initially opt out if there is any uncertainty because the town can then backtrack and allow the sites at any time. However, if officials were to allow it from the outset, they would be prevented from changing course if it didn’t work out, he said.
“It gives us some comfort that if we opt out now, if we think that it makes sense to opt back in in the future, we can,” Schiliro said.
Schiliro added that he has also had concerns about making access to cannabis easier for school-age children, even though the legal age to consume and purchase is 21 years old.
Councilwoman Barbara DiGiacinto agreed, saying that the public should understand that the town is opting out from retail sales and consumption lounges. People will still have the ability to use cannabis wherever it is permissible.
“I would prefer to wait and have some time to, first of all, learn from the municipalities that are not opting out and go from there,” she said.
Town Attorney Roland Baroni said most other northern Westchester communities appear to be leaning toward opting out, knowing that there is the chance to include the retail dispensaries and/or consumption sites at a later date. Although Schiliro later added that he has spoken with other Westchester supervisors and mayors and there will likely be municipalities that will decide to opt in.
By formally making the decision before mid-July, it allows any town resident who forces a permissive referendum by collecting enough signatures on a petition to have enough time to have the proposition appear on the general election ballot, sparing the town the expense of holding a special election. Towns have until Dec. 31 to make a decision.
The few people who contributed comments to last Wednesday evening’s public hearing were in favor of giving it a try. Armonk resident Jeremy Jacobs said if it’s true that most municipalities in northern Westchester appear to be moving toward opting out, there is little that the town will learn by waiting.
Furthermore, municipal officials are frequently concerned about assessable and generating revenue for a multitude of needs, and this would make sense that the town would have another revenue stream.
Under the law, there would be a 13 percent sales tax on cannabis sales, with 9 percent going to the state, 3 percent to the municipality and 1 percent to the county’s offers.
Jacobs also said he was concerned that the town seemed to be signaling that alcohol was okay because there are about 15 establishments in Armonk alone where you can legally buy drinks and consume them.
“I feel like, in effect, what we’re doing here is picking which vices we approve of and I’m not really sure, since pot is now the law of the land, it is now legal for consumption and ownership and home growth, why we’re going to treat this specially in terms of not allowing a retail business to engage in that, if they choose to,” Jacobs said.
Two North White Plains residents wrote letters that were read into the record by Town Clerk Alison Simon also voicing support to allow for sales.
Schiliro said it isn’t clear to him how the state offices that will oversee its regulation will be structured or how they will operate.
“We don’t know what the infrastructure is going to look like in Albany, so that’s something we do have to get comfortable with, and we need to see how those boards are populated and they also, I believe, will have some say ultimately, I think legally, on the opt-out and opt-in provisions,” he said.