BLOOMINGDALE — The results of the St. Armand cannabis survey are in, but after seeing a low response and split result, the town board is putting the issue on the backburner for now.
This past December, the town voted to opt out of issuing licenses for cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption bars in a 4-1 vote. Councilman Donald Amell cast the lone “no” vote, saying he’d rather do nothing and opt in to allowing dispensaries because he was concerned opting out could scare away potential businesses.
The board decided then to gauge town residents’ thoughts on the topic.
The survey was held in-person at the town hall on May 20 and 21 with anonymous paper ballots. Winemiller sealed these ballots in a box, which she taped shut thoroughly. There was a bit of commotion in the town hall as Deputy Supervisor Karl Law pried the repository open on Tuesday.
“I will verify, it was very hard to open,” Law said.
Each council member grabbed a stack and read the results off out loud, as well as any additional comments.
There were 32 total responses. Out of approximately 1,600 residents in the town, that’s pretty low, Winemiller said.
“Hardly a sampling,” Councilman Sheridan Swinyer said.
Councilwoman Stephanie Bolduc Mikesell said it seems like only people who felt strongly about the issue one way or another turned out to share their thoughts.
Sixteen ballots had both “yes” boxes checked, indicating support for allowing both dispensaries and on-site consumption licenses. Thirteen had both boxes checked “no.”
Three ballots were split, with a “yes” vote for dispensaries, but a “no” vote for on-site consumption licenses. When someone had a split “yes” and “no” response it was always “yes” dispensaries and “no” for on-site consumption.
In all, there were a total of 19 “yes” votes and 13 “no” on the town allowing dispensaries and an even split of 16 votes each for and against on-site consumption licenses.
Winemiller said the town can’t put the cannabis business question on the ballot for the Nov. 8 election. The deadline to submit a petition to include it then has passed.
But she said she also doesn’t feel a rush to get the town to vote on whether to opt in or stay opted out.
There are no final rules and regulations on cannabis sales from the state yet, and there have also not been any requests from anyone to open a cannabis business in town yet, Winemiller said.
Winemiller said she believes business owners will likely look to open cannabis businesses in Saranac Lake, since it has a much larger population.
Bolduc-Mikesell said her husband Ethan chose to open their brewery, Hex and Hop, in Bloomingdale because there was space, it was cheaper than Saranac Lake and the permitting process was easier. St. Armand does not have a zoning code currently.
But, she said that even though St. Armand is close to Saranac Lake, it is often too far for patrons.
“That going seven minutes down the road thing does seem to be a bigger hurdle than we anticipated,” she said.
Swinyer suggested the board put the topic “on the backburner” for now, unless there’s a big community push to opt in. Personally, he said he’s not for it at all, but he’d like a conversation if there is a desire in the town.
For now, he said it would be a “waste of time” to put a lot of effort into a town-wide discussion if no one would even want to open a business here.
Winemiller wants the state rules to be released first, because the town wouldn’t know what they were opting back into until then.
Bolduc-Mikesell suggested revisiting the topic when the rules are released.
Law pointed out that the town can always choose to opt back in at any time.
Some people who approved of cannabis businesses compared cannabis to alcohol, saying St. Armand has a brewery and that statistics show there are not increases in DWAI incidents or traffic fatalities when social use of cannabis is permitted.
A study conducted by researchers at Florida Polytechnic University and published in the journal The Review of Regional Studies in 2021 found that in places where cannabis was legalized between 1985 and 2019, there was no “no statistically significant change in (traffic) fatalities,” and a decrease in traffic fatalities following the passage of medical marijuana laws.
Other survey respondents pointed to the financial benefit they believe cannabis businesses could bring to the town.
Sales of cannabis will be taxed at 13% in New York. Of that, 9% will go to the state, 3% to the local government where the sale took place and 1% to the county where that local government is located.
Some respondents just wanted a cannabis dispensary in their town.
Some people disapproved of cannabis businesses because they believe it would change the character of the town. They believe these businesses would bring a crowd of people who are not “upstanding citizens.”
Several said cannabis leads to hard drug use and others believe it is a hard drug itself, saying it damages the brain. Others were concerned about the effect cannabis businesses would have on local children.
Some just didn’t like the cannabis business discussion at all, simply calling the idea “terrible.”