Kent Sets Hearing on Marijuana Sales Despite Board Majority Ready to ‘Ban the Dispensaries’

Kent Town Supervisor Maureen Fleming
Kent Town Supervisor Maureen Fleming

Kent Supervisor Maureen Fleming wants to leave it up to the residents to decide whether retail marijuana dispensaries should be allowed within the community, but some Town Board members are ready to ban the decision immediately.

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo legalizing recreational marijuana earlier this year, the new law allows cities, towns, and villages the choice to opt-out of the legislation and prohibit the sale of the drug within its borders. With the board somewhat divided on the topic, Fleming last week suggested the town place the decision in a referendum vote in November.

However, while Fleming was the only member of the board in favor of moving in that direction, Councilmen Chris Ruthven and William Huestis insisted the town immediately vote to opt-out of the legislation.

“I’m ready to vote to ban the dispensaries,” Ruthven said at the June 1 Work Session. “I’m having a hard time comprehending that our state made this legal. I don’t think it was a good idea by the state and I’m not going to do anything to help support it in anyway shape or form.”

Huestis added that a dispensary is not needed in Kent when the are needs to be revitalized in so many ways. He urged the town has a responsibility to protect the children.

Councilwoman Jaime McGlasson, who at the May 18 meeting advocated for dispensaries for medicinal marijuana, shifted her opinion on allowing a dispensary in Kent after stating she found an individual smoking marijuana in a public park.

“I was concerned about the medical aspect of it but then I went home, and I looked at my three children who are growing up faster than I want them to, and children is a main concern,” she said. “Having a dispensary in our town is not the way to go.”

Municipalities have until Dec. 31 to pass a local law to opt out of the program, but that decision would be subject to a permissive referendum. A petition containing at least 20 percent of a municipality’s registered voters would be needed to trigger a referendum and must be received by the village clerk within 30 days of the passage of the local law.

Furthermore, municipalities can also regulate where and when marijuana can be sold by adopted new zoning laws.

If a community decides to opt out, it may reverse that decision at any time.

Under the law, anyone at least 21 years old would be allowed to buy or consume marijuana and carry up to three ounces of cannabis and up to 24 grams of concentrated cannabis.

With the establishment of the state Office of Cannabis Management, it is expected to take until at least the end of 2022 before any retail outlets will open.

A state license would be needed to grow, process, distribute, deliver, or dispense marijuana.

Sales of marijuana would carry a 13 percent sales tax. If the municipality opts in, the state would receive 9 cents of every dollar of marijuana sales generated within its borders, while the local government would get 3 cents. The county would receive 1 cent.

The law states that consumption would be legal anywhere that cigarette smoking is permitted, but Town Board members discussed the possibility of banning smoking in certain public areas, like parks.

Since the law was passed in March, County Executive MaryEllen Odell has urged municipal leaders to “think long and hard before allowing the sale of marijuana within their borders,” noting county government leaders’ hands are tied.

Odell has previously called the new law a “cash grab” by the state at the expense of the health and safety of local communities solely to close a budget gap.

“I understand that the state wants to generate a new source of revenue because of past mismanagement of the NYS budget, but at what price? The average person will look at the legalization of marijuana and say, ‘This does not impact me.’ But it is naïve to think that use among our young people will not increase,” Odell said in April. “Will our roads be safer? It’s like your parents always told you, ‘Just because your friends are doing it, doesn’t make it right.’”

Despite what was presumed to be a public hearing scheduled for the June 1 meeting, officials opted to set a formal hearing at their June 15 meeting to discuss the potential ban on dispensaries. Regardless of the outcome, Fleming urged a vote would be the ideal decision.

“A lot of people don’t come to public hearings and a lot of people don’t write letters or don’t make phone calls to let their voices be heard but one thing people pretty much do in the Town of Kent is vote and I think we have pretty bit turnouts during elections and this way the issue would be settled by the residents,” Fleming said. “Tell us what you want to do, this is an important issue. I think letting people vote is a good idea.”

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