CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — In an attempt to stay ahead of the slow-moving train that is the legalization of marijuana in the state, the Clifton Park Town Board, Monday, authorized the formation of a marijuana policy review committee.

As the 2019 legislative session draws to a close and the possibility of the state’s lawmakers and the governor approving a law that allows the use of recreational marijuana, the Town Board took action that will give input from experts in the field of law enforcement as well as the community at large.

The 13-member committee is made up of the five Town Board members, the Saratoga County District Attorney, three representatives from the law enforcement community, a medical specialist, a representative of the Shenendehowa School District, and two student representatives from the town’s Youth Court.

The committee will examine and discuss the potential effects of the expanded use of the drug on local communities and provide input on zoning regulations in regard to possible legalized sales.

Following the state’s legalization of the dispensary program in 2015 the Town Board implemented zoning restrictions identifying two areas in town where medical marijuana dispensaries could locate. At the time, the Town Board was more concerned with the eventual legalization of marijuana for recreational use than with retail sales of medical marijuana.

The board designated areas in the Crossings retail shopping mall and along both sides of Route 9, north of Exit 9, as acceptable for medical marijuana dispensaries.

No retail establishment ever opened in town, although one opened last year in a small retail plaza in Halfmoon.   

At Monday’s Town Board meeting, Supervisor Philip Barrett reiterated his words from the 2015 meetings, saying the board’s action at that time wasn’t so much about sales of medical marijuana as it was the realization that legalization of recreational use was the ultimate goal.

"When we implemented zoning restrictions for medical marijuana dispensaries, we figured legalization for recreational use was only a few years away and here we are,” he said Monday. “Common sense would dictate if there is medical marijuana dispensaries in your municipality once it’s legalized for recreational use those dispensaries could very easily be converted to legal marijuana for recreational use dispensaries.”

Barrett added that the zonings for medical marijuana dispensaries must now be reviewed because the sales of recreational marijuana is much more of a concern for municipalities and therefore it’s important the town be prepared as a municipality for the effects of the legalization, which he believes are sure to happen.

“We’ve seen it throughout the country in areas that have legalized marijuana and those same negative consequences will likely happen in New York state as well,” he said. “If they’re happening in other states after legalization, common sense would dictate those same negative circumstances will also occur here in New York State.”

In discussing the possible legislation to legalize, Barrett noted that one of the ideas being floated is that counties will have the option to opt-out of hosting a retail outlet for recreational marijuana.

“Some counties have already said they are willing to opt-out and will not allow the sale in their counties,” he said. “It hasn’t come up yet at the county Board of Supervisors, however. I don’t expect that to happen until the legislation comes forward from the state.”

Barrett was joined in his position on legalization by other members of the board.

“I think it’s when, and not if it will be legalized in New York State,” said Councilman James Whalen. “Being pro-active as to what other states and communities have done is certainly prudent. Seeing what others have done can only help us when it eventually arrives.”

In an interview, prior to the meeting, Councilwoman Amy Standaert gave reasons why the formation of the committee was important.

“We want the community’s input on this,” she said. “Because there’s no legislation, we’re in a gray area. Are the zones we established for the medical marijuana dispensaries satisfactory? We aren’t sure, that’s why we want to be out in front of this and get input from the community. There are a lot of things at stake here.”

Standaert said as a former teacher who taught in the suburbs as well as the inner city she is uncomfortable with legalizing recreational use.

“I understand the adolescent brain. They don’t process things the way an adult does and I don’t hear this as part of the discussion going on in Albany and that really bothers me,” she said. “Teens are being told it’s natural and therefore safe. From our experience with the Clifton Park Youth Court program some young people do not fully understand the negative impact that using certain drugs can have on their life. Nothing good comes from drugs, alcohol, and kids. "

The Marijuana Policy Review Committee is comprised of Barrett, Whalen, Standaert, council members Lynda Walowit and Jim Romano, Dr. Matthew Miles, retired police officer and former corner Dan Kuhn, Shen administrator Craig Chandler, Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, Saratoga County Sheriff Mike Zurlo, retired New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations investigator Patti Donavan and Youth Court leaders Peyton Gouzien and Jess Farrioli.

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