BY LIAM MAYO
GLEN SPEY, NY – The public hearing on Lumberland’s cannabis opt-out law was brief.
Supervisor Jenny Mellan asked for comments from the crowd. A voice said: “Nice move.” Otherwise there was only silence.
The board passed the law in a similarly taciturn manner. A consensus was quickly reached – we don’t need such deals here – and the motion was accepted.
While not all cities have passed an opt-out law, some are considering it.
This is exactly what the City of Callicoon discussed with the Sullivan County Sheriff and Undersheriff at the recent city council meeting.
What does the opt-out do?
The law does not waive statewide legalization of cannabis in Lumberland or any other town in the county.
“Communities cannot oppose legalization of adult use,” read an information page on the State Office of Cannabis Management’s website. “Adult possession and use of cannabis aged 21 or older is legal in New York State.”
The terms of legalization, however, allow cities, towns, and villages to reject part of the law, the part that allows retail pharmacies or local consumption lounges to operate. Cities cannot ban the possession of cannabis within their borders, but they can make it illegal to operate a cannabis dispensary or smoking lounge.
The Legalization Act allows cities to opt out at any time until December 31, 2021. While a city can sign in again if it signs out before that date, a city cannot sign out after that date.
Concerns from Sullivan County
While the existence of a pharmacy in a particular city may seem a minor matter alongside the broader issue of legalization, the decision of an individual city can have major ramifications.
In making the decision to opt out, the Lumberland Town Board raised concerns about the impairment of driving that could be caused by pharmacies or smoking lounges within the city limits. Even if the city only allowed pharmacies, Mellan said, cannabis buyers probably wouldn’t wait to get home to take part.
That concern was also raised by Sullivan County Sheriff Michael Schiff, who spoke with Undersheriff Eric Chaboty at a local council meeting in the town of Callicoon on July 12.
In rural areas without public transport, opening a pharmacy would inevitably lead to impairment of driving behavior. Coupled with the lack of an effective test equivalent to the breathalyzer, this impairment in driving could be dangerous.
Research into the effects of cannabis legalization on accident rates in states that have legalized cannabis is still ongoing. Although the data is unclear, many studies have suggested a link between cannabis legalization and higher traffic accident rates, particularly in Colorado.
The sheriff also raised concerns that the decision to legalize cannabis was driven by the state’s desire for profit. “I think they’ll skip the gun,” he said. “I think they are looking at the money.”
Schiff feared the state entering the drug business could do badly amid the ongoing and urgent problem of fentanyl. The black market could undercut the legal market without a good way to distinguish legal marijuana from illegal, and illegal marijuana could easily be infused with fentanyl.
The sheriff’s most pressing concern, which she shared with the Callicoon Town Board, was simply that legalization was new in New York. There wasn’t enough data yet to determine whether the approval of pharmacies and smoking lounges would prove valuable or disastrous, and he suggested opting out so that data could be collected elsewhere in the state.
“I am glad that you are proceeding carefully,” said Schiff.