Officials updated on pot law

Fulton County Community Services Director Ernest Gagnon discusses New York state’s new Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act before the Board of Supervisors’ Human Services Committee Tuesday at the County Office Building in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — A Fulton County official on Tuesday provided a legislative committee an overview of New York state’s newly-enacted Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA).

County Director of Community Services Ernest Gagnon gave a presentation to the Board of Supervisors’ Human Services Committee at the County Office Building.

“This is a view from 10,000 feet,” Gagnon said.

He provided the committee with information about the new law. He noted that on March 27, state legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a deal to legalize adult-use cannabis and create a consolidated state Office of Cannabis Management. The OCM would be established within the state Liquor Authority. Cuomo signed MRTA into law March 31.

“This is a revenue raiser,” Gagnon said of New York’s intentions.

The OCM would be responsible for governing medical cannabis, adult-use cannabis, and cannabinoid hemp. The new law sets an effective date of April 1, 2022 for retail sale of adult-use cannabis. Permits allow for “home cultivation,” although Gagnon said you must be 21.

Gagnon said there will be a 13 percent tax on adult-use retail cannabis sales, with 9 percent going back to the state and a 4 percent split between cities and counties. Revenue from retail sales of marijuana is expected to bring in $350 million annually to New York state.

The legislation includes a municipality opt-out provision which allows cities, towns and villages to opt-out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law. The law must be passed by Dec. 31, 2021; or nine months after the effective date of state legislation.

Gagnon noted the law says smokeable forms of cannabinoid hemp are only to be sold by “adult-use retail stores.”

“It’s not real clear how that’s going to work,” he said.

The MRTA creates a two-tier licensing structure which prohibits licensed growers and producers from also owning a retail license to protect the market from monopolistic competition.

Gagnon said the bill sets a 9 percent sales tax on cannabis, with 1 percent going to counties. He said it is estimated local governments will share in $75 million annually.

“There will also be a tax on the potency,” he said.

Gagnon said counties are preempted from adopting any law, rule, ordinance, regulation or prohibition pertaining to the operation or licensure of adult-use medical, or cannabinoid hemp licenses.

Gagnon said he conferred with county Sheriff Richard Giardino on the new law regarding traffic safety. The state Department of Health says it is launching a research study to evaluate technologies that could detect cannabis-impaired drivers. But Gagnon said one of the “problems” is that cannabis can stay in a person’s system for 30 days.

People will be issued something similar to a traffic ticket for marijuana possession, Gagnon said.

“It’s not going to mean time in court and time in jail,” he said.

Having cannabis won’t necessarily violate a person’s probation, he said.

He said prisoners will be released from the state prison population who were originally incarcerated for long periods for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

As far as home consumption, Gagnon said “home grows” will allow three mature plants and three immature plants permitted for those over 21. Six mature plants and six immature plants are the maximum permitted per household.

The MRTA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for the use of cannabis outside of work, albeit the law doesn’t allow impairment during work hours.

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