In split vote, Greenport opts out of allowing retail marijuana sales, on-site consumption

Retail marijuana will not be coming to Greenport in the near future.

Village trustees voted 3-2 Monday night to opt out of allowing on-site marijuana consumption and retail dispensaries within village boundaries, ahead of the state’s Dec. 31 deadline. The village may choose to opt in later, reversing the decision, but it will never again have the opportunity to opt out. 

Mayor George Hubbard, Deputy Mayor and Trustee Jack Martilotta, and Trustee Mary Bess Phillips voted in favor of the opt out, emphasizing regulatory concerns. Trustees Julia Robins and Peter Clarke voted against.

“I’m not opposed to it either way, I just think that we’re really not prepared for this,” Mayor George Hubbard said. The village can choose to opt in six months from now with more research after seeing “what the state is going to do.”  

Trustee Mary Bess Phillips took a similar stance, emphasizing that whether residents smoke marijuana is not the issue.

“The issue is our quality of life in the Village of Greenport,” she said, emphasizing the lack of regulatory guidance so far from the state Office of Cannabis Management. “My vote is going to be to opt out of these two types of businesses operating within the Village of Greenport at this time until the promised approved regulations for the application process for these types of businesses are issued by the two New York state agencies.”

The Cannabis Control Board didn’t hold its first meeting until Oct. 5 and as of Oct. 29 had not issued guidance on the licensing of retail marijuana businesses, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government

Mr. Martilotta said he’s not against marijuana either, but he can’t “in good conscience go to my neighbors with no answers … just on the blind faith that New York State is going to do the right thing.”

The village vote followed a public hearing where — although sentiment was fairly mixed — many spoke in favor of legalizing retail cannabis establishments in Greenport. Mr. Clarke said he changed his mind after the hearing.

“I came prepared tonight to support the opt-out because I thought we needed more time, more facts,” he said. “But I was moved by the conversation in the room and the most compelling argument I heard for getting in and moving forward with the state legalization was two or three things. Really, the idea of taking away the illicit and illegal nature of having to resort to procuring cannabis in an illegal fashion. The other was taking away the fear, if you will.”

He said the proposition would place a lot of pressure on the village to sort out accompanying issues, but he’s more inclined to “to throw our hat in the ring with the other places in the state to follow the state’s leadership in decriminalizing marijuana, and allowing our residents to be able to find it in their community in a safe way.”

He alluded to one resident in his 80s at the public hearing who described his discomfort with purchasing marijuana illegally, calling his account compelling. 

“I would prefer if we had more of a road map and we knew more clearly what was going to come down the pipe and that we were better prepared, but I’m not sure I can vote to opt out and hope that it doesn’t pass us by, that there’s never an opportunity for us to make this available,” he said. 

Ms. Robins, who also voted against the opt-out, stated that she believes regulated marijuana is in the best interest of the public.

“It eliminates the danger of street drugs,” she said. “Greenport had a very deadly experience recently, with the danger of an unanticipated drug, fentanyl, being added to cocaine. When people buy marijuana from a street dealer, they never know what’s in it. Legal, regulated marijuana eliminates that danger.” 

Six North Fork residents were killed in August, after unintentionally overdosing on cocaine laced with fentanyl. 

Ms. Robins added that she doesn’t anticipate the proliferation of dispensaries in the village and she doesn’t support smoking lounges. 

“Smoking in public is not permitted by New York State already by the Clean Air Act,” she said. “We already allow the widespread consumption of alcohol in the village. I think our business district zoning will offer adequate oversight.”

Greenport resident Cathy Haft questioned why the village would choose to opt-out of legalizing marijuana sales in the area and lose out on potential tax revenue. 

“Wouldn’t you like to regulate and get the revenue? It’s not like nobody’s smoking pot, let’s get real here,” she said. 

Other residents suggested that opting in would grant the village more control over licenses and regulations, and help promote safety among village residents who do partake in cannabis.

Ms. Phillips asked Village Attorney Joseph Prokop at one point to clarify state legislation, suggesting that retail marijuana licenses may be regulated in a similar fashion to the state liquor authority. 

“There’s no indication in the legislation that I’ve seen that if we opted in … we would have any control over the licensing,” Mr. Prokop said. “It does say specifically that municipalities cannot zone in a way that would frustrate the establishment or operation of these places, so our zoning powers would be probably limited. Some communities are considering industrial areas … but of course Greenport doesn’t have an industrial area that we could relegate these establishments to.” 

The state website notes that except for the opt-out provision, municipalities are “preempted from adopting any law, rule, ordinance, regulation, or prohibition pertaining to the operation or licensure of adult-use, medical or cannabinoid hemp licenses.” 

Towns, cities and villages are permitted to pass local laws and regulations governing the time, place and manner of adult-use retail dispensaries and on-site consumption licenses, so long as they do not make license operation “unreasonably impracticable.” 

The state notes as an example that cities, towns and villages are permitted to pass laws and regulations related to local zoning and the location of licensees, hours of operations and adherence to local building codes, but they may not issue local licenses to cannabis licensees.

Mr. Prokop also indicated that the village is unlikely to retain much money in tax revenue. According to the state Office of Cannabis Management, cannabis products are subject to a 4% local excise tax, 25% of which goes to the county. The rest “goes to the cities, town or villages within the county as a proportion of cannabis sales,” the state says.

If both Southold and Greenport were to allow adult-use sales, the revenue would be split based upon a distribution agreement between the town and village. If an agreement did not exist, the revenue would be divided evenly between the two. Southold Town Board plans to discuss the marijuana opt-out at its work session today, Tuesday, Nov. 30.

Several residents also spoke against retail marijuana. One woman said the smell makes her ill and expressed concern about how consumption would be regulated. Another resident suggested retail establishments could exacerbate the existing traffic problem. 

“So the question comes, is [the traffic] worth 10,000 bucks? ” someone else said, posing a hypothetical annual tax revenue. 

Another resident said he was not in favor or against the opt-out, but felt the village needed to gather more information.

David Falkowski, a Sag Harbor resident and owner of Open Minded Organics in Bridehampton, spoke at length during the hearing. He said he’s been part of discussions with other neighboring towns, including Southampton, and addressed several questions brought up during the hearing. Mr. Falkowski is also chair of the Long Island Regional Committee of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association.

He emphasized that opting out of allowing retail dispensaries and smoking lounges in the village does not change the legislative pressures that come with legalized marijuana use. New York has attached smoking marijuana with smoking tobacco, he added, and ordinances can be passed banning all smoking and vaping. 

“We will not be able to opt out of home cultivation, people using marijuana. We still have to address drug driving. Have you started to look at DREs, drug recognition experts, and check feasibility studies?” he said. “Some people are smoking marijuana now and there is drug driving. So these are some of the assessments that are not going to be affected by opting out, except that there’s going to be less money possibly in the coffers there.”

Mr. Falkowski added that a lot of guidelines mirror the state liquor authority so far and emphasized that retail marijuana licenses will likely be limited. 

“These are going to be very competitive licenses, so out of the gate it’s not like we’re going to see one of these in every municipality,” he said. “To that point, this is really about resource management. And again, I’m just here to spread information today … But these licenses, they’re going to be limited.”

Locals might want a shot at entering the marijuana market in the village, he said. Opting out would “buy more time for large multi-state operators” to become established in neighboring municipalities. 

“I do understand and acknowledge this is a huge challenge,” he said. “I don’t envy your job now but I just do hope that you provide opportunities for the folks in Greenport who want it.” 

Mr. Falkowski offered to email a report on the local impacts of local cannabis to village trustees.