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Upstate New York Officials Clash Over New Cannabis Regulations

In upstate New York, officials from the county and the city are at odds regarding the application of regulations governing marijuana cultivation in their communities. 

This dispute involves Niagara Falls City Council, Niagara County Planning Board and Niagara County Council. It centers around enforcement of the recreational sale of marijuana. New York legalized it in 2021. 

The Niagara Gazette reports: “The Niagara County Planning Board unanimously decided to disapprove a zoning text amendment the Niagara Falls City Council approved a month ago, which allows for the cultivation, production and sale of recreational cannabis within the city. Despite this decision, the members knew their actions would have little effect on the city’s implementation. The county board members’ objections ranged from not being specific on locations to the city seeing little financial benefit from having these businesses operate in the Falls.”

Under the ordinance that was approved by the Niagara Falls City Council last month, “cannabis dispensaries engaging in sales only can operate between 8 a.m. and 2 a.m., those that allow on-site consumption may operate from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m., and may not operate more than 70 hours a week,” and retail “dispensaries may not be located within 500 feet of a community facility while consumption dispensaries may not be within 200 feet of a house of worship, 500 feet of a school or ‘community facility,’ and 1,000 feet of similar operations,” according to the Niagara Gazette.

New York’s Office of Cannabis Management issued 36 recreational marijuana dispensary licenses to various businesses and nonprofits in the state in November, but so far, only two retailers––both located in Manhattan––have opened to customers.

The Office of Cannabis Management says that cities, towns, and villages could have opted out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses from operating within their jurisdictions, but those municipalities needed to “pass a local law by December 31, 2021 or nine months after the effective date of the legislation.”

The agency explains: “If a municipality does not opt-out by December 31, 2021, the municipality will be unable to opt-out at a future date. However, the municipality has the option to opt back in and allow one or both adult-use retail dispensaries, as well as on-site consumption licensing types, by revoking the existing local law. Every local law that is passed by municipalities to prohibit the sale of adult-use dispensaries, or licenses for on-site consumption are subjected to a permissive election as per section 24 of the Municipal Home Rule Law. This creates a process allowing voters of the municipality to petition the outcome of a local law, which if successful, will trigger the question of whether or not to approve the local law, to be placed on the ballot at the next general election of state or local government officials for the municipality.” 

No municipality can “opt-out of adult-use legalization,” according to the Office of Cannabis Management.

According to Niagara Gazette, Kevin Forma, the city planning director of Niagara Falls, “said the directions that all municipalities received from the state are similar to liquor ordinances and the requirements for having a bar,” and that the “state was also restrictive in what the city can do for allowing and disallowing uses.”

“The state is telling us that we cannot restrict this,” Forma said during the planner’s meeting on Monday, as quoted by the Gazette. “We’re developing this to the best of our ability, managing this in conjunction with the state rules and regulations.”