By Alexa Jindal
Initial reaction from North Castle officials is to opt out from recreational marijuana retail dispensaries and on-site consumption lounges, although they first want to hear from residents on the issue this summer.
The Town Board indicated last Wednesday it will make a decision by mid-July following a public hearing, and if the determination is to opt out, that would give dissenting residents time to force a permissive referendum and place a proposition on the ballot in time for the general election.
Also fueling the board’s sentiment is that under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Mar. 31, any municipality that opts out from sales and/or consumption facilities can reverse its decision at any time. However, communities may not opt out after choosing to allow the establishments.
The Town Board is expected to open a public hearing starting on June 23 and make a decision by its July 14 meeting.
Town Administrator Kevin Hay said while municipalities have until the end of the year to decide what to do, there is a tight window to put a referendum on the November ballot. Otherwise, the town must hold a special election at its own cost.
“The reason why we’re starting this process now is because we have to hit a deadline of July 19, 2021, which is the last day this municipality can adopt this local law that would allow for a permissive referendum and would allow for us to put this on the November ballot,” Hay said.
Avoiding a fairly significant expense is one of the motivating factors in keeping that option open, Councilwoman Barbara DiGiacinto said.
“First of all, I think you get a better turnout, but to me just as important is the fact it’s not going to cost 30 or $40,000, and that takes into account a lot of work and man-hours to put that together,” she said.
Town Attorney Roland Baroni said the permissive referendum mechanism allows 45 days for a petition to be gathered and submitted to the town following passage of a local law to opt out. Therefore, it would provide enough time for the town to have it placed on the November ballot by the Board of Elections. Typically, there is a 30-day time frame, he said.
If a municipality opts out, it would forego any marijuana sales tax revenue, Hay said. There is a 13 percent sales tax, of which 9 percent would go to the state, 3 percent to the municipality and 1 percent to the county.
Schiliro said that while the initial consensus of the board may be to opt out, he would like his colleagues to keep an open mind because they may hear arguments from the public that they may not be considering.
“We’ve got concern, but they’ve structured it where we have that potential out, that we can get back in,” Schiliro said.
Minimal feedback thus far from North Castle residents has been split. DiGiacinto said one North White Plains resident e-mailed her urging her and the board to allow for retail sales. Town Clerk
Alison Simon said she has received one correspondence asking the town to opt out.
Schiliro said some municipalities could make their decision based on what neighboring communities do.
“(They) may embrace this out of the gate and if everyone around them opts out they get all that revenue and all that tax money,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s a reason to do it, but that’s a reality.”