Hashish lounge proposal going to voters | Greene County

CATSKILL — Cannabis lounges will be on the ballot in the town of Catskill in November as voters will decide the fate of a referendum that would allow on-site marijuana cafes.

The town board voted 3-1 on Dec. 29 to opt out of allowing lounges after the board endorsed allowing dispensaries in Catskill.

Under the state Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act that legalized cannabis in New York for residents ages 21 and older last March, municipalities had until the end of 2021 to opt out of allowing cannabis lounges and dispensaries within their borders.

If no action was taken before the end of the year, both would have been allowed in perpetuity, while municipalities who opted out of either can choose to opt back in at a later date.

In the wake of the town board’s vote, a group of Catskill residents decided to collect signatures in the hopes of getting a referendum on the ballot to allow marijuana lounges in the town.

Sara Pickens Verdon, who spearheaded the effort, was jubilant to learn the town officially certified the group’s petition to gain access to the ballot on Nov. 8.

“We’re very happy,” she said Wednesday. “There was a lot of support from all across the town and from various political affiliations. It really was a community effort.”

Verdon said establishing lounges in the town will encourage visitors to spend more time and money in Catskill after they leave the on-site usage lounges.

“I truly believe that allowing cannabis cafes in all parts of the town will just help strengthen the community,” she said. “We’ll be able to provide something else to the tourists that we rely on. It’s about time, so we’re all very happy.”

Catskill Town Supervisor Dale Finch, who voted to opt out of the cannabis lounges, said he was pleased to see taxpayers will ultimately decide the issue.

“We’ll see what the voters say in November,” Finch said. “I think having the voters decide is the right path forward. I’d rather see 4,000 voters come to the polls and make that decision versus having the town board make those decisions. It’s the right way to go.”

The New York State Office of Cannabis Management has established an online portal with municipal opt-out repeat information, but Finch said the town is still waiting for further guidance from the state on marijuana guidelines for dispensaries and lounges.

“The hope is that by November there’s more clarity to what the marijuana laws are going to look like and how they’re going to affect our communities,” Finch said. “I don’t think there’s a big gray area. Voters are either going to want lounges in their communities or they won’t. But I’m glad to see it’s going to be on the referendum and the people of the town and the citizens of Catskill will get the opportunity to make that choice.”

Verdon, who spent countless hours in Catskill’s shopping plazas pounding the pavement to collect signatures, said her group does not have any firm plans at this time for the seven-month campaign that awaits to get cannabis lounges approved in Catskill.

“We don’t have anything set yet,” she said. “But we believe that we can make this happen. So we’re very excited about continuing the conversation with the community to see how cannabis could fit into our community.”

In Greene County, 11 towns and villages decided to opt out of dispensaries or lounges.

The town of Windham opted out of both last December, and Windham Town Supervisor Thomas Hoyt said he has not been swayed in the past three months that the town should now decide to opt in for either option.

“We made our decision last year based on input from the community plus the lack of any kind of guidance whatsoever from the state at the time,” Hoyt said. “Our thing was, ‘How can we approve this for our community and lock ourselves in forever when we don’t know what the rules are?’ We knew down the road that if it was something that fits for the community, we could opt in at a later date. Since that time, there’s been numerous members of the community that have approached me personally and said, ‘I’m glad you guys did what you did.’ They’re happy that we did not proceed with allowing that at this time.”

Hoyt said he has not received any new information from the state to clarify the marijuana regulation guidelines the state is planning on putting into place.

“I haven’t seen anything,” he said. “I haven’t seen an email or a letter, not a single bit of guidance to try to persuade me to opt in at this time. Our town is still in the dark, as we were when we made the decision not to opt in with any information that has been given to us by New York State.”

Hoyt said if public sentiment in the town changed, the board would follow the taxpayers’ will.

“In my mind it’s about what the community wants to do,” he said. “I work for the community, it’s not about what I want to do. Even if I had any personal preference one way or the other, I work for the people. Whichever way the people want to go, my board will probably go.”

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.