Canton town, village supports state push to legalize and tax marijuana
Tuesday, June 11, 2019 - 5:31 pm

By ADAM ATKINSON
North Country This Week

CANTON -- Town and village officials are crafting a joint resolution in support of decriminalizing marijuana and voicing support for its sale in the county and in Canton under a proposed state law.

After some discussion, the two boards tabled action on a similar resolution proposed by Village Trustee Sean O’Brien at their joint meeting Monday, June 10, requesting a more robust version of the measure with additional educational information.

Several trustees and council members felt they also needed more time to do additional research on the topic and the state’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA).

Town Councilman Bob Washo and O’Brien were directed to rewrite the resolution for future consideration by both boards.

O’Brien’s initial resolution supports MRTA, which legalizes and regulates the production, distribution, and use of marijuana, much like alcohol and tobacco products are regulated. Supporters of MRTA believe it will fuel a multimillion dollar agriculture industry and support small and local marijuana businesses.

Each county within the state can opt in or opt out of the legislation if it is passed by the state legislature. O’Brien’s resolution proposed at the meeting June 10 also declares support for St. Lawrence County opting into MRTA.

“(MRTA) is something that would make a positive impact on North Country farmers, and a positive impact on the broader population,” O’Brien said. “If we show leadership in this, which is obviously what I recommend we do, then we are in a position to attempt to make the terms . . . and make the regulations in such a way as benefits local communities, be a model for other communities. And also, by bringing this out in the open and talking about it we have the opportunity to do the really important work I think in the changing of the role of cannabis in our economy and our society. Which is to develop social standards for its use which can be helpful and effective.”

“I agree,” said Washo, “I think the county is going to be saddled with the decision to opt in or out and I think its going to be important for them to hear what their constituents across the county have to say. And I think its time for the taboo of discussing it be broken and people need to start to speak up one way or the other. So I’m in agreement with the resolution. I’m personally in favor of letting the county know I’m in favor of them opting in.”

“I would just say that I support the intention. What I wish we could have here in our resolution . . . is more of the ‘Whereases.’ I would like to set out what it is,” said Village Trustee Carol Pynchon. “All the reasons that we talk about health, safety, agriculture, economy. To make the case. I think it would be a more powerful statement from us . . . I think we could bolster this and make it a stronger statement.”

“Not withstanding the merits of the law and the resolution, I’m just concerned about the process here,” said Town Councilman Tim Danehy.

Danehy pointed out that “Decriminalization of Marijuana” was listed on the meeting agenda as a discussion item. “So to walk in here and be asked to vote for a resolution I think is a little premature just in terms of our process,” Danehy said.

“Bob and Sean and others have looked into this law (MRTA) a lot more than I have. I wouldn’t feel comfortable voting either way on this tonight,” Danehy said. “I was under the understanding that this was discussion item, so getting to that next step this quickly is not something that I’m prepared to do at this point.”

“I would agree with Tim that I didn’t expect a resolution,” said Town Supervisor Mary Ann Ashley. “There should be more to this (the resolution). As far as the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, I would have to see that as well. And I have a lot to learn on this issue on many levels.”

Danehy added that while he realized there was going to be local impact from MRTA, he sometimes questions if it is a municipal board’s roll to take political positions on broader national and state level issues.

“But there is going to be a direct relationship to local governments making local decisions about this. That is a process. They are kicking it back to the localities,” Washo said.

“This touches us at the local level more than some of the things that (the state) spend their time on,” Danehy said.

“If our philosophy is the state is going to sort this out, then we will be a long time waiting. And also, I think the solution they come up with will be better if they incorporated our perspective on it,” O’Brien said.

“I definitely feel that being political means showing leadership, and this is an issue we need leadership on, but I’m very sympathetic to the point that we need more thoughtful leadership on it and I’m happy to continue to work on it,” said O’Brien.

“Yes, lets do some homework on this,” said Village Trustee Klaus Proemm.

Washo pointed out that similar resolutions are being passed by other municipalities downstate.

“It’s going to be a state law, it’s whether or not each individual county interacts with it in a specific way,” Washo said.

He added that not opting into MRTA would mean that people could still use marijuana, but it couldn’t be sold or produced in St. Lawrence County.

“Thus the tax revenues, and any money generated, would happen in bordering counties and then people would be going outside the county to get it, bringing it back and then being able to legally use it within that county that opted out,” Washo said. “So you really kind of shoot yourself in the foot in a way by opting out.”

“So the farmers would get hurt, producers would get hurt, the local tax base would get hurt,” said Washo.

O’Brien said at this point only one upstate county has declared they would opt in. “So I think the counties that get to ‘yes’ earlier will have the farmers’ benefit the most,” O’Brien said.

“Part of what we can accomplish with this is education,” Pynchon said.

“It’s coming, so we have to take it out of the shadows and discuss it like mature adults,” Washo said. “We live in college towns, where it is already here.”

“If there is anything we can do keep these mult-billion dollar valuated companies from mass marketing this and mass distributing this and do it like we do so many other things very well in the North Country, which is locally, with local standards, local quality control, the benefits we will see will be substantially more. Because, again that also allows us to bring in the kind of social message of what is abuse, what are the things to look for,” said O’Brien.

Canton resident and legal cannabis advocate Ann McLaughlin who attended the joint meeting said that marijuana was decriminalized in New York State in 1977.

“It’s been decriminalized but we have still been persecuted for use and consumption and everything associated with it in all that time, just because its been this war on people. And now it’s coming around,” McLaughlin said. “It’s about liberty . . . Essentially what it gets down to, is being able to control your own consciousness. And who is somebody else to tell me that I have to take a pill to control my consciousness and not a plant.”