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Villages Face A Host Of Decisions On Legalized Marijuana

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June 8, 2021

By Barrett Seaman—

As of April 1st, it is legal in New York State for adults 21 and over to possess or ingest cannabis products (up to three ounces of marijuana or 24 grams of concentrated cannabis oil). In theory smoking a joint is legal anywhere it is legal to smoke a cigarette. That said, there remain many questions that will need to be answered before there is clarity on who can sell it, where and how exactly it can be consumed and what controls individual villages will have over its presence in their community.

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Boards of Trustees and Village Administrators in the rivertowns are only just beginning to consider these issues. Administrations in Sleepy Hollow, Irvington and Dobbs Ferry are confident that their current prohibitions on smoking tobacco products in parks and other public places already cover cannabis. In Tarrytown, trustees feel a need to mention marijuana specifically in spelling out their smoking bans. At their May 17 meeting, Trustees passed an amendment to the existing ban on smoking in village parks to include weed as well as vaping.

Where there remains indecision in Tarrytown, however, is on the question whether to extend the ban to public parking lots, a number of which are adjacent to both the waterfront Losee and Pierson Parks and to the Metro North train station. Technically speaking, those lots are zoned as parkland and in many cases are treated as such by residents. The lots next to Losee Park have been the site of several organized rallies in recent years as well as for regular informal evening gatherings. Trustee Doug Zollo, quoting village police, argued that allowing marijuana consumption would only encourage more congregating. Village Administrator Rich Slingerland observed that these areas were intended to be parking lots, “not places of public assembly.”

A motion to extend the ban to the lots was tabled on a 5-2 vote, but it will be revisited in coming meetings.

Mike Love, owner of Main Street’s Coffee Labs, called into the trustee meeting to assert that the land underneath the Washington Irving Boat Club west of the Metro North tracks was village property and only leased to the club and adjoining restaurants. He asked whether that meant that boaters and restaurant patrons there could be arrested for smoking pot.

Another caller, attorney Ronald Steinvurzel, posed a threshold question that will occupy village leaders in the months to come: “If you are disincentivizing [people] from smoking in parks and parking lots, where are you incentivizing them to do so?”

What’s Next:

In Irvington, the Village Board has already begun to wrestle with that and other questions in advance of several future deadlines for local decisions on cannabis use and sale. At their May 26th meeting, trustees heard a tutorial on their options from Village Attorney Marianne Stecich. Among her key points:

In addition to possessing up to three ounces (or 24 grams of oil), adults will be allowed to grow six plants (12 per couple)—but not until 2024.

Smoking weed in public spaces, like parks, is clearly not permitted. Conversely, smoking in the privacy of residents’ homes is clearly legal for adults. Smoking on sidewalks? Not clear. Some municipalities, including Great Neck on Long Island, have gone the extra step by explicitly banning sidewalk use.

The state will deliver licenses for cannabis delivery services—including home delivery—and local governments cannot block them from operation in their jurisdiction.

All services, including dispensaries and pot bars, will require licenses, and while individual villages can enact restrictions on how they operate, they cannot render the business impracticable.

Alcohol cannot be consumed where cannabis is sold, but there is no limit on what else (including food) could be sold there.

Opt-in or Opt-out?

Village boards can opt out of hosting dispensaries or marijuana bars, but they must declare their intention to do so by the end of this year; the last meeting at which Irvington trustees can do that is December 20th. They may choose to put a referendum on the November ballot, but if they do, the Board of Elections has to know by August 1st.

If a local government chooses to opt out, they may later reverse that. One way would be through a referendum generated by a citizens’ petition. That would require the signatures of 20% of registered voters. If voters then override the opt-out decision, the issue is out of the hands of the Board.

One reason to opt in is the prospect of tax revenue. The state has placed a 13% tax on cannabis products, but Albany has given itself nine of those 13 percentage points. One percent will go to Westchester County, leaving three percent for either the village or the Town of Greenburgh. According to Stecich, Greenburgh hasn’t decided whether it wants in; if yes, then Town and village will have to negotiate a split. The bottom line: not much there.

Having heard their choices, Mayor Brian Smith and other Trustees opined that taking the opt-out position seemed the more prudent. “The way it’s set up pushes you towards opt-out,” said Smith. If Trustees say no,” reasoned Trustee Janice Silverberg, ”we’re not saying no forever.”

In the coming weeks, each of the rivertown village boards will be facing these same decisions. Meanwhile, residents—and local police departments—will have to make decisions on the fly as to what is acceptable weed consumption and what is not.

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