State cannabis agency tracks local opt-outs before kicking off licensing process

The Office of Cannabis Management launched a portal to track laws that will keep dispensaries and lounges out of some localities

ALBANY — In an effort to gather crucial local data necessary to plan the state’s licensing of adult-use cannabis businesses, New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) is compelling municipalities to submit their decisions to opt out of allowing cannabis retailers as soon as possible through an online portal launched Wednesday, Nov. 10.

The opt-out process has been a hot topic at town board meetings across the state, with a Goshen tirade even going viral on TikTok, after the state legalization bill passed last spring gave municipalities until Dec. 31, 2021, to push through local laws limiting the distribution of licenses for businesses like dispensaries and cannabis lounges in their jurisdictions.

In some municipalities, including the Hudson Valley’s Tuxedo and Cold Spring, voters were asked to weigh in directly on the potential for cannabis businesses in their area during last week’s general election.

“These decisions will be critical for those seeking a license to understand where opportunities are available and for the Board to understand the initial geographic picture of participation,” said Chris Alexander, the OCM’s executive director. 

The OCM and its oversight board, the Cannabis Control Board, have not yet provided any details to prospective adult-use licensees on the nature of the application process or the number of licenses the state will grant. But knowing which municipalities will disallow such businesses will be crucial for the board to determine how to distribute the initial round of licenses under their purview.

“I encourage localities requesting to opt-out of hosting dispensary and on-site consumption licensees to file their requests promptly,” said Tremaine Wright, who chairs the board that will ultimately approve the state’s first adult-use cannabis businesses. 

Municipalities are not allowed to prohibit other conduct made legal on the state level last spring, such as smoking weed in public. While they are required to pass any local opt-out laws by Dec. 31, governments can choose to opt back in at any time or to allow some types of businesses but not others.

Some local leaders in the Capital Region and the Hudson Valley have chosen to permit cannabis dispensaries but have banned on-site consumption businesses, or “lounges,” which are akin to bars for pot use. 

The recent Hudson Valley referendums produced a similar result: residents in both Tuxedo and Cold Spring appear to have opted out of on-site consumption businesses, though voters from the latter opposed a separate proposal to ban dispensaries, offering a boost to those hoping to purchase pot and smoke at home. In Cold Spring, still-uncounted absentee ballots may impact this result.

Municipal governments that chose to opt out of having cannabis retailers in their jurisdictions were already required by law to directly request that the Cannabis Control Board refrain from allowing such businesses to obtain state licenses.