TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—As the new year passed, so did the deadline for local governments to decide whether or not they want to allow marijuana dispensaries and consumption sites.

To be clear, the decisions, which each municipality either made or consciously chose to ignore (in the case of the Town and City of Ithaca) are a bit like a half-step. New York State gave municipalities until Dec. 31, 2021 to make a decision regarding whether or not to allow recreational marijuana dispensaries and on-site consumption as separate issues. Any municipality could choose to disallow either or both up to that date, but if a decision has not been officially made by now they are not allowed to opt out.

They can, however, control significant parts of the implementation of marijuana retail, such as using zoning to regulate where stores can be established or what kind of businesses can serve marijuana on-site, among a bevy of other potential regulations that municipalities can utilize. Those will all likely come into focus over the coming months as governments decide how welcoming to marijuana they want to be through their own legislation.

To see only the decisions that have been made, you can check the Rockefeller Institute of Government’s page here.

City of Ithaca, Town of Ithaca

There was never much question whether the City of Ithaca and the Town of Ithaca would allow recreational marijuana storefronts or consumption sites in their municipalities. The city never officially considered the question at the Common Council level, meaning they de facto opted in. The Town of Ithaca took a similar route, choosing to tackle the matter this year after opting in.

Locals have been keeping an eye on a few new entrants into the downtown business scene, anticipating that they will soon offer legal weed once storefronts are permitted. Those sentiments may have been misguided, though there’s plenty of confusion about potential regulations and how they’d impact the eligibility of certain businesses. The owner of the new smoke shop on the corner of the Commons, where the Pack ‘n’ Ship Store used to be, said his store wouldn’t be selling marijuana or applying for a license, since he was told if a store sells weed it isn’t allowed to sell paraphernalia, rolling papers, pipes, etc.—which makes up basically the entirety of that store’s inventory currently.

Another store manager of a smoke shop on the Commons said he was under the impression their store was too close to a school—namely, New Roots Charter School on Cayuga Street—to obtain a license to sell marijuana. Once statewide regulations are formally introduced and approved, they will likely answer these questions definitively, but for now there seems to be a certain hesitance among business owners to commit one way or another without more information.

When would those licenses be approved and distributed though? That’s a whole different hurdle. When the law was first approved in March 2021, it seemed like marijuana storefronts would arrive this year. However, according to the Gothamist, that timeline seems like it was optimistic—Cannabis Control Board Chair Tremaine Wright floated summer 2023 as a possible deadline for issuing the first wave of retail licenses.

Village of Trumansburg, Town of Ulysses

The Village of Trumansburg made their decision fairly early on, compared to several other municipalities, voting to opt-in to both consumption sites and dispensaries in October.

Meanwhile, the Town of Ulysses also opted in to both, reasoning to The Ithaca Times that if places around Ulysses opted in then marijuana would be in the community anyway. With that in mind, Ulysses might as well aim to benefit from potential sales tax benefits.

Town of Enfield

The Town of Enfield did have a debate about the future of marijuana retail that at one point looked like it would lead the town to opt out. Town Board member Bob Lynch introduced legislation specifically seeking to opt out of marijuana dispensaries, with a possible option to revisit the decision in three months, but a split vote was reached and thus Enfield opted in.

Village of Freeville

The Village of Freeville opted out of allowing marijuana dispensaries. The Villages Board of Trustees voted 4-1. Freeville’s Mayor, David Fogel, said that the Village wanted to avoid increasing traffic through its main street, and the risk of defining the small retail and commercial offerings of the community with a dispensary.

“We’re on the way between Cortland, Dryden and Ithaca, so we wanted to avoid being a destination for those reasons,” said Fogel.

Village of Dryden

The Village of Dryden approved a law to opt out of allowing dispensaries and consumption sites in October. The Village’s Mayor, Mike Murphy, could not be reached for comment by The Ithaca Voice, although he told The Ithaca Times that the village — which New York State Route 13 funnels a good deal of traffic through — would rather wait to see how the laws are developed around the sale and use of cannabis.

Town of Dryden

The Town of Dryden, which the villages of Freeville and Dryden are set within, will be allowing the establishment of dispensaries and consumption sites. Opt-out laws were never proposed, let alone put to a vote by Dryden’s Town Board. Without much of a concerted public effort to get the Town Board to vote on a law, Dryden is opting in to allowing consumption and dispensary sites. 

Dryden Town Supervisor Jason Leifer said opting-in now gives the Town of Dryden the potential to see benefits to its tax base where opting out might exclude one of the potentially limited number of dispensary and consumption sites from emerging in the town.

Leifer said, “The rationale is that it is simply a fiscal issue at this point […] and we still have control through zoning, so it’s not it’s not like these things are gonna pop up all over the place.”

Town of Caroline

The Town of Caroline has opt-out laws that were put to a vote on Dec. 30, the last municipality to decide in Tompkins County. Caroline held a public hearing on Dec. 15, which seems to have made the town more strongly consider opting out of allowing both kinds of facilities. Indeed, the vote on Dec. 30,

Town Supervisor Mark Witmer wrote to The Ithaca Voice prior to the vote that Caroline is considering opting out, “to keep our options open as the regulatory framework for the marijuana law is being refined. We consider this a matter of due diligence.” 

Town of Danby

In the Town of Danby, a motion to opt out of consumption sites died on Dec. 22nd’s board meeting, meaning Danby will allow consumption and dispensary sites within its borders. 

Danby’s town board only considered opting out of consumption sites. The primary stemmed from the potential rules being yet undefined; it’s unclear if they would resemble bars where patrons can’t take alcoholic beverages off of the premises. 

However, the law failed to get a second motion. Danby’s rationale for opting in was similar to the Town of Dryden’s. Danby’s town board wanted to avoid the risk of preventing consumption sites when there may be a small window of opportunity for them to be allowed in the town. 

Prior to the motion dying in Danby’s Town Board meeting, Town Planner David West said to the board, “One concern from our attorney was just that we all should be mindful that there will probably be a limited number of licenses and towns that opt out. The licenses for the region may be gone before you decide to opt in.”

Village of Cayuga Heights

The Village of Cayuga Heights opted in to both dispensaries and on-site consumption in April 2021, stating that “The board agreed to not take action prohibiting retail sales in the Village.”

Village of Lansing

The Village of Lansing has opted in for dispensaries and out of on-site consumption. Lansing Village Mayor Ronny Hardaway explained that, after two public hearing meetings with low attendance, a majority of the Village of Lansing trustees decided to opt-in to retail because it felt that those establishments were similar to retail stores of alcohol.

“The trustees felt that cannabis dispensaries, as characterized by the NYS Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, were clearly defined and regulated by the state, and dispensaries would fit well within the Village’s existing commercial zones,” Hardaway said. “Opting out of dispensaries would not prevent Village residents of legal age from buying cannabis products elsewhere and bringing them home.”

He also noted that the decision to allow cannabis retail sales could provide the Village with additional state-mandated tax revenue that could help with funding municipal services, infrastructure and long-term governance.

Hardaway also said that the trustees felt that the definition and regulations of on-site consumption establishments were ambiguous and introduced several concerns, including the question of how on-site consumption establishments would handle second-hand smoke exposure to nearby businesses. Another question from the trustees was how cannabis consumers would travel from the establishments without driving under the influence.

“With these concerns in mind, the trustees voted to opt-out of on-site consumption establishments until we have a clearer understanding of how the establishments will be regulated and how they will address trustees’ concerns,” Hardaway said. “The Village can always reconsider this decision once more information and clarity exist.”

Town of Lansing

The Town of Lansing opted out of both dispensaries and on-site consumption facilities.

Town of Lansing Supervisor Ed LaVigne was primarily concerned with the public safety aspect of the bills, rather, what ambiguity there was in regard to public safety if dispensaries and on-site consumption facilities were permitted.

“We really didn’t have a clear direction about what the options were as far as certain questions, we have time to opt-in later, but we have to be pragmatic about this and we can see where it goes,” LaVigne said. “This isn’t an issue about money, the primary issue is about public safety and addressing people’s concerns, and that’s why I voted to wait and see what happens.”

LaVigne shared a saying he’s been told: “The second mouse gets the cheese, not the first mouse.”

Town of Newfield

The Town of Newfield opted in to both dispensaries and on-site consumption during a public hearing at the end of October 2021.

“As with many of our neighboring municipalities we are disappointed that NYS has been slow on providing details of the law, such as setbacks from schools and churches, but forcing towns to make this decision of opting out by the end of the year,” Newfield town Supervisor Michael Allinger said. “Nonetheless, Newfield will not be opting out of the NYS Adult-Use Cannabis Retail Dispensaries and On-Site Consumption License.”

Village and Town of Groton

Both the Village and Town of Groton opted out of dispensaries as well as on-site consumption facilities, the Village in August 2021 and the Town following suit a month later.

Groton Town Clerk April Scheffler said via email that the Town’s decision could be explained by public hearing and the local law, which states that “It is the intent of this Local Law that the Town of Groton opt out from allowing cannabis dispensaries and on-site cannabis consumption sites in the Town that would otherwise be allowed under Cannabis Law Article 4.”

The Town law states that the Town Board believes that permitting cannabis establishments requires a more thorough review of the impact of such premises on the health, safety and welfare of the Town and surrounding residents. “In addition, the yet unresolved issue addressing enforcement of the new laws and guidelines related to cannabis sale and use, would not be, at the current time, in the best interests of Town of Groton residents,” the public hearing meeting minutes state.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at jjordan@ithacavoice.com Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com