Deadline to opt out of MRTA bill draws near; several areas in Cortland County have opted out

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With an opt-out deadline of Dec. 31, some municipalities across Cortland County are seeking to prohibit the establishment of adult-use cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption of marijuana products.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), approved by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March, introduced a system for the state and municipalities to regulate manufacturing of cannabis products, establish ways to tax sales and production, and oversee the commercial sale of recreational marijuana through the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM). 

Through this law, cities, towns, and villages can opt out of allowing the licensing of adult-use marijuana dispensaries, as well as on-site consumption lounges in the localities’ jurisdictions. 

“Municipalities cannot prohibit the legalization of marijuana in general; residents can still possess and consume within the municipality,” according to a policy analysis from SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute Director of Operations Heather Trela. “Prohibition is limited to the two types of retail businesses exclusively and does not apply to cultivation or manufacturing facilities.”

If municipalities do not adhere to the Dec. 31 opt-out deadline, they will be automatically opted-in to the retail marijuana market. There is currently an online opt-out portal municipal leaders can visit to go through the process.

“This web-portal will enable localities to file their local law opt-out requests and ensure that the Cannabis Control Board has this key information as we consider license applications and the siting of cannabis businesses,” New York State Cannabis Control Board Chair Tremaine Wright said in a statement. “I encourage localities requesting to opt-out of hosting dispensary and on-site consumption licensees to file their requests promptly so we can build an accessible, safe and equitable industry in New York.”

OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander said the opt-out measure allows residents for their voices to be heard at the state level.

“Ultimately, understanding these decisions will be critical for those seeking a license to understand where opportunities are available and for the (Cannabis Control Board) to understand the initial geographic picture of participation. We look forward to continuing to work with our local partners, as together we strive to build an equitable market,” Alexander said.

Tax revenue is a reason why localities may want to opt-in.

“Those municipalities that do decide to opt out will not be eligible to receive any of the revenue generated from adult-use marijuana sales,” Trela says. “MRTA establishes a 13 percent tax on adult-use marijuana sales, 4 percent of which is split between the county (25 percent of the 4 percent) and municipalities (75 percent of that 4 percent).” 

Below is a list of Cortland County municipalities that have decided to opt out:

Cuyler: Town Supervisor Lou Anne Randall said the town opted out of allowing dispensaries and on-site consumption, but could potentially revisit down the line. “We decided it is not the best avenue for our town at this moment,” Randall said.

Preble: Town Supervisor James Doring said the vote to opt out was unanimous. “We felt (adult marijuana consumption) was not in alignment with our values,” Dooring said. He added the town may revisit their decision down the line. 

Willet: Town Supervisor Sandy Doty said the town opted out of both measures. “We didn’t feel it was something we wanted to have in the community,” Doty said, noting opting back in later down the line was not an option being considered at this time. 

Marathon: Village Mayor Bill McGovern noted Marathon would be opting out of the state legislation. “We’re not going to set the world on fire unless we become the cannabis capital of Cortland County,” McGovern said at a board meeting in August.

Cincinnatus: The Town of Cincinnatus opted out of the state’s legislation in August via unanimous decision among town board members: Town Supervisor Luann King noted members of the board had “seen and heard plenty of drug-related issues in (Cortland) county,” and opting in “would add to the problem.”

Cortlandville: The Town of Cortlandville opted out of allowing marijuana dispensaries via a town board vote of 4-1 in August. The board voted unanimously to outlaw on-site consumption.

“If down the road there’s a huge, huge demand for it and people come knocking on the door, we can opt back in,” town board member Jeff Guido said.

The Village of McGraw opted into sales and on-site consumption by submitting the proposition to a permissive referendum for residents. 

“We put it out to the public via a permissive referendum and now that the absentees came in, it all came down to one vote,” Deputy Mayor Patrick Leach said. The final tally was 77-76 in favor of approval.

Town of Homer residents voted “no” on Proposed Local Law no. 3 in November. The law  would prohibit marijuana dispensaries and consumption sites anywhere in the town outside of the village. The law failed via a vote of 673 “no” votes to 563 “yes” votes.

The village of Homer Board of Trustees voted to allow marijuana-based dispensaries, but voted 3-2 in favor of prohibiting on-site consumption establishments at a meeting in July.

The towns of Solon and Freetown confirmed to The Cortland Voice they would not be opting out.

Virgil Town Clerk ​Alane Van Donsel told The Cortland Voice the town board will be voting on a local law Dec. 9 that would prohibit the establishment of dispensaries and on-site consumption.

Representatives from the towns of Harford, Taylor, Truxton, and Scott could not be reached for comment. The Rockefeller’s Institute database of municipalities that have opted out does not have any information on these municipalities.