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NY cannabis office says quarter of municipalities have opted out of dispensaries, lounges so far

David McNew
Getty Images

Still more than two weeks away from the deadline, New York’s cannabis office reports a quarter of all municipalities have already opted out of hosting marijuana dispensaries, lounges where marijuana can be consumed, or both.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, signed into law by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year, allowed municipalities to opt out of permitting dispensaries and on-site consumption lounges within their borders. Municipalities can choose to permit dispensaries, where marijuana products are sold, but ban lounges where marijuana is consumed.

During Thursday’s Cannabis Control Board meeting, Chris Alexander, executive director of the state Office of Cannabis Management, reported that 365 municipalities have either opted out of allowing dispensaries, consumption lounges, or both. That represents 24% of all cities, towns and villages statewide.

New York State's Cannabis Control Board meets Dec. 16, 2021.
New York State Office of Cannabis Management
New York State's Cannabis Control Board meets Dec. 16, 2021.

“These numbers are relatively consistent with the experience of other states [that have legalized marijuana],” Alexander said, “and we expect them to increase a bit as we get to [the deadline] of Dec. 31.”

The opt-outs have come mostly from towns and villages. Just six cities, or 10% of cities statewide, have opted out, while 259 towns have opted out, about 28% of towns statewide. Meanwhile, 100 villages, or 19% of villages statewide, have opted out.

However, the Rockefeller Institute of Government reports significantly more municipalities have opted out. According to the Albany-based think tank’s online database, 462 municipalities have chosen to opt out of dispensaries, while 523 have chosen to opt out of consumption lounges.

A spokesperson for the Office of Cannabis Management said in an email they “cannot speak to Rockefeller's numbers,” but that Alexander was reporting only how many opt-out applications have actually been filed as of Wednesday.

“We are working to produce more specifics, and will do so following the December 31 deadline,” the spokesperson said.

According to the Rockefeller Institute of Government, 14 municipalities in Erie County have chosen to opt out of both dispensaries and consumption lounges, including Williamsville, Clarence, and the town of Lancaster. Another four, including Grand Island and West Seneca, have opted to allow dispensaries but to ban consumption sites. Only six, including the town of Hamburg, have chosen to allow both.

The City of Buffalo has not yet made a decision one way or the other, according to the institute, although Mayor Byron Brownsaid in March the city has no plans to opt out.

If a municipality does not opt out by Dec. 31, it cannot opt out later. Therefore, dispensaries and consumption lounges will be permanently allowed within its borders. However, municipalities that opt out can choose to opt back in at any time.

Some municipal leaders have said they opted out only for the time being, due to uncertainty surrounding regulations.

Alexander said a New Year’s Eve deadline was set so dispensaries and consumption lounges know where they can operate their businesses.

“If a municipality could opt out at any time, it could have created instances where businesses received a license and set up operations in a municipality, only to find out that the municipality later voted to prohibit this activity,” he said. “And so that was the justification for this order of operations.”

The Office of Cannabis Management is currently looking for somewhere in Buffalo to call home, as the Cannabis Control Board approved a resolution Thursday for the office to begin seeking long-term space in Buffalo, as well as New York City.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act specified that the Office of Cannabis Management must have a principal office in Albany, and maintain branch offices in Buffalo and New York City.

Alexander said approximately 40 employees will be based in Buffalo “within the coming months.”

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.