YORKTOWN, N.Y. – A new state law, scrapping generations-old prohibitions against marijuana and instead allowing adults to sell, grow, and smoke it, is finding a frosty reception at Yorktown town hall.
Seeing a “burden...on local communities” in the state’s relaxed stance on the once-outlawed drug, Supervisor Matthew Slater said the Town Board is “assessing all of our options.”
The measure signed into law last week not only makes it legal for adults to light up a joint in public but also allows entrepreneurs to start local businesses catering to the marijuana trade. Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act:
• Both cannabis consumption lounges and specialty shops selling weed can now open their doors on the Main Streets of cities, towns, and villages statewide
• A community can “opt-out,” forbidding the establishment of sales or smoking sites, or both, within its borders, but it must do so through passage of a local law before year’s end;
• Local jurisdictions cannot bar personal possession or use that meets the law’s guidelines; and,
• Adults will eventually be allowed to have weed delivered to their homes or use the product at “consumption sites.” They can also grow up to six plants for personal use.
While Slater stopped well short of declaring Yorktown an opt-out community, he made clear the town would consider making that move. And the supervisor, who came of age politically as a Republican staffer negotiating the state Capitol’s corridors, also left no doubt how he views the state’s change of cannabis’ status.
“I disagree with Albany’s recent actions to legalize recreational use [of marijuana] and the burden it will place on local communities,” he said.
The legislature’s March 30 voting broke largely along party lines, with GOP lawmakers uniformly opposed to legalization and most, though not all, Democrats supporting it.
That divide was evident in statements after the vote by the lawmakers who represent Yorktown in Albany.
Democratic State Sen. Peter Harckham of South Salem, who chairs the Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, applauded his chamber’s approval of the measure, calling it the “most thoughtful bill of its kind in the nation.”
But Republican Assemblyman Kevin Byrne of Mahopac, the ranking minority member on the Assembly Health Committee, has opposed legalizing recreational marijuana. Byrne, who voted against the legislation, said he supports lifting “burdensome restrictions on medicinal marijuana.”
Slater, for his part, chafes under what he sees as yet another imposition by the state on local governments. “Albany is notorious for placing unfair and unfunded mandates on municipalities and this is no different,” said the supervisor, who has held a number of political posts in and around the Capitol, including four years as chief of staff for former state Sen. Terrence Murphy.
Even for towns that opt-out and forbid dispensaries in their community, Slater noted, enforcing prohibitions on “driving under the influence” of marijuana will exact a price. “There will be a cost every municipality will have to bear,” he said, “including but not limited to enhanced enforcement of DUI laws.”
The Town Board was expected to take up the matter in a work session “once we have all of the facts and guidance from the state,” Slater said.
“With the [new law’s] unintended consequences unknown,” he said, “it is shortsighted to shortchange local towns that opt-out.”
What it means
Albany’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana use for people 21 and older not only will boost the state economy, creating 30,000 to 60,000 new jobs statewide, but will also be another step toward racial and social equity, supporters say.
Adult-use cannabis is expected to generate tax revenue of $350 million a year. Forty percent of that money will go to community development in minority areas disproportionately ravaged by the so-called “war on drugs,” launched a half-century ago.
The remaining money will be shared by schools and education (40 percent) and drug treatment and education programs (20 percent).
The legislation’s passage also means that someone convicted of pot-related offenses, ones no longer criminalized, will have their records automatically erased.
“This is a historic day in New York—one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in signing the bill into law on March 31.
New Yorkers may now possess up to three ounces of marijuana and smoke it in public, wherever tobacco use is allowed. They’re also allowed to have 24 grams of concentrated forms of the drug, such as oils, for recreational use.