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Lake George residents oppose pot dispensaries; village to decide future of sales next month

LAKE GEORGE — Allowing marijuana dispensaries in the village would damage the image of the family-friendly resort and set a bad example for children, said residents and business owners during a public workshop on Wednesday.

About a dozen people gathered at the firehouse for the meeting to weigh in on whether the village should allow retail dispensaries and on-site consumption facilities to open locally.

“At the end of the day, it goes to image, and that’s the biggest problem from the business point of view,” said Robert Gregor, a resident who owns three motels in the village. “Lake George is plagued, whether rightfully or not, as been a honky-tonk town. That is an image we have been trying to get away from … if we want our image in this town to be anything more than a honky-tonk image, we’ve got to opt out of this.”

About half a dozen residents spoke in favor of opting out of allowing retail marijuana sales. No one spoke in favor.

Gregor, who owns the Sundowner, Motel Montreal and the Lake Haven Motel, said, despite a no-smoking policy, more people have been smoking marijuana on his properties since March, when lawmakers approved the state’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.

Pot-smoking has become increasingly difficult to police and has led to arguments and complaints from guests, he said. A marijuana dispensary in the village would further “condone” the behavior, he said.

“That in and of itself is a problem,” Gregor said.

Kathy Muncil, owner of the Fort William Henry Hotel and Conference Center, urged village officials to prohibit retail cannabis sales.

Under the law, local municipalities are limited when it comes to controlling cannabis use. The state is tasked with regulating marijuana, which, under the current law, can be consumed publicly wherever cigarettes can be smoked.

Local governments, however, have until Dec. 31 to decide whether to allow cannabis retail dispensaries and onsite consumption facilities to open within their jurisdictions. Those that do allow the sales can put reasonable restrictions on the location of the facilities.

But municipalities that opt out by passing a local law will not receive any of the millions of dollars in sales tax revenue expected from cannabis sales. The law is subject to permissive referendum.

Marijuana sales in New York will carry a 13% tax, with 9% going to the state. The remaining 4% will be divided between counties and local municipalities, with 25% of it going to counties and the remaining 75% divided among local governments based on sales.

Places like Queensbury and Glens Falls have signaled interest in allowing the sales in hopes of generating a new revenue stream. Bolton, however, has recently joined the growing list of municipalities opting out of allowing the sales.

Those that opt out have the ability to opt in at a later date, according to the law.

It’s unclear how much revenue Lake George would stand to collect through retail sales, but the village would likely be required to split any revenue with the town under the law.

The town has yet to decide whether to opt out of sales, although village officials said the two municipalities have a history of working closely together and will likely be in lockstep on the issue.

Those in attendance Wednesday said the additional revenue simply isn’t worth it.

Several also expressed concerns about the optics associated with a dispensary and expressed concerns about the effects the presence of marijuana shops could have on children.

Edward Pontacoloni, a retired lawyer who lives in the village, distributed a packet of material containing images of marijuana-growing facilities and an opinion article written by a Colorado lawyer, warning of the downside of marijuana sales.

Pontacoloni said marijuana is becoming more potent. He pointed out that views on cigarette smoking have changed over the decades and urged those in attendance not to make the same mistakes when it comes to marijuana.

“I don’t believe marijuana should belong in a family-friendly community,” he said.

Following the meeting, Trustee Ray Perry said much of what he heard from residents aligns with his thoughts.

“My thoughts are to initially opt out and see what other communities face as far as struggles, trials, tribulations and successes, and then we can always opt back in,” he said. “I think this is a very volatile issue, particularly with the residents, and they obviously came here and spoke.”

Mayor Robert Blais said the village will take the subject up at its next board meeting, which will be conducted via Zoom to give residents an opportunity to weigh in again.

He added that he expected more people to attend and noted two people who have expressed interest in opening a dispensary within the village were not in attendance.

“I’m surprised they’re not here this evening, and I’m disappointed that they are not,” Blais said. “If they felt that strongly about it like you folks did, they’d be here.”

Chad Arnold is a reporter for The Post-Star covering the city of Glens Falls and the town and village of Lake George and Washington County government. Follow him on Twitter @ChadGArnold.

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