GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – As the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state of New York makes its way through communities big and small, the city of Glens Falls is already considering the potential future for new industry in a downtown that’s had a lot of growth in recent years.
As of a Common Council meeting last Thursday, the message is clear: For the majority of city leaders, there’s no reason to say no.
“The fact here is that if we opt out, all we’re really doing is opting out of potential sales tax that’s going to be available from the sales,” said 2nd Ward Councilman Bill Collins on Monday.
Collins was outspoken during last Thursday’s meeting, which happened to address the “opt-out” option that would let individual municipalities say no to letting marijuana be sold within their jurisdiction, as marijuana regulation at a state-level slowly comes together.
Municipalities that want to opt-out have until Dec. 31 to draft such a law.
Collins, who is running unopposed to become the next mayor of Glens Falls, pointed out that saying no to a dispensary opening in the city wouldn’t stop recreational marijuana from being sold just outside the small city’s limits.
“If the town of Queensbury has a dispensary in it, there would be nothing stopping a resident of Glens Falls from calling there and ordering marijuana delivered to their house in Glens Falls,” he explained.
And on the other side of things, the benefits of allowing recreational cannabis dispensaries or cafes would go beyond just sales tax.
The state has communicated intent to start offering grants to communities that do adopt new marijuana business, once the sales license process becomes finalized.
Those funds could go to a lot of places. The city is currently reworking some financials around an ambitious farmers market project on South Street, that’s gone $2 million over budget because of changes in lumber prices.
While existing projects could use the money, Collins suggested the funds marijuana-based business would generate could go towards public safety, in direct response to fears – some voiced to Collins by members of the Glens Falls community – of increased rates of impaired driving and other accidents.
“That’s something that all police forces across the state are going to have to respond to, and learn about and deal with,” he said. “If we had some sales tax money, we could throw some at that, too.”
That money would go towards existing research into how best to test individuals who are pulled over for driving while high. Presently, there isn’t a widely-used equivalent to breathalizers used for drunk driving incidents.
Free use, safe use
Just because Glens Falls says “okay” to the idea of a marijuana cafe or dispensary opening within the city, that doesn’t mean it’ll happen.
The New York Office of Cannabis Management, which recently had its final board members appointed by Governor Kathy Hochul, would give the yes or no to any application submitted. Those decisions get made based on background checks, criminal history, and community standing.
“So we would be able to weigh in,” Collins said. “Someone has three felonies, why would you give this person a bar license or a liquor license? Why would we give this person a marijuana license?”
Collins talked about a recent visit he took to the New York Conference of Mayors and cited what he was told there about how some guidance and laws are being crafted by the state marijuana authority.
Namely, they’re modeled after similar laws used by the New York State Liquor Authority.
Like liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries will only be able to sell the substance they’re there to sell, and not extensive paraphernalia to go along with it; think tumblers and glasses for a liquor store, or pipes and bongs for a cannabis store.
As for the “cafe” style of cannabis retailer, laws would apply that would mirror laws around bars. Licenses can be suspended if regulations are not properly followed.
“We can’t create all sorts of laws, but we can regulate these things like we would any other kind of facility.”
The business at hand
Once applications to sell recreational cannabis are open – something expected to happen within the next two years – Glens Falls business owner Robin Barkenhagen plans to be one of the first in line.
Barkenhagen is one of the owners of 42 Degrees, a shop selling glass pipes and smokeware in downtown Glens Falls. He and his business partner, Brian Bronzino, have been working on plans for both types of business; a dispensary and a cafe.
“I think we’re ready to go,” Barkenhagen said on Monday. “I think our business plan is pretty much all set.”
Barkenhagen also serves as president of the Glens Falls Collaborative, an organization of downtown businesses that put together events like Glens Falls’ Take a Bite food festival.
All of that means he’s had a lot of involvement in the community as a whole and said he was happy to hear Glens Falls is staying open to the idea of a business like the one he and Bronzino hope to open.
“We’ve seen the estimations and the numbers, and for the city, it’s going to be great,” Barkenhagen said. “Every city and town is struggling with budgets right now, and the opportunity to put more tax money on your rolls is great.”
It would be a long time before a facility could be set up in Glens Falls, but the partners already own a couple of buildings they have in mind. One of them is the oldest standing building in the city.
“It’s the former bridal shop, but I call it the former blacksmith shop because that’s what it was a couple hundred years ago.”
The building in question is 56 Glen St., across from Cool Insuring Arena and just before the bridge that crosses the Hudson River into South Glens Falls. The partners own that building, and love the idea of making it into their newest venture’s new home; but they also love another idea that the city is set to try out there.
Right now, that building is being rented to the city. Glens Falls received a grant to perform an urban farming study and will use that building through 2022 to see if indoor vegetable growth through winter is viable there.
“And the thing is, that’s a wonderful idea,” Barkenhagen said.
If the Glen Street space becomes a long-term home for produce instead of a different kind of leaf, the partners also own 84-86 Dix Ave., across from the Whiteman Chevrolet car dealership. Two tenants of that building left over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving what could be ample space.
“We kind of go back and forth daily on which one would be better,” Barkenhagen said. “I love the idea of the bridal shop – the oldest building in Glens Falls – becoming the newest business, but I also like the idea of it becoming an urban farm.”
Wherever it ends up, Barkenhagen’s business is the kind of new development for Glens Falls that Collins hopes to see more like in the coming years, especially as he stands unopposed to become the city’s next mayor.
But it’s not about marijuana, specifically.
“It’s not about marijuana dispensaries and cafes; we want good places of business,” he said. “We would look at this kind of application as we would look at any. Is it the right kind of building? Is it the right size? Does it fit within the nature of the neighborhood or downtown district?”
To aid in that work, the city is hoping to lay out some guidelines on where a dispensary or cafe could open, once the regulations are in place and made public.