CANANDAIGUA – As of now, a majority of members on Canandaigua City Council appear likely to back opting in to the state marijuana law, although there is a split – and several want to hear more from the public before any official action is taken.
In the meantime, should the city go that route, the emphasis now will be on determining where and how legal cannabis dispensaries and/or places to consume the products can be located within its borders.
Earlier this year, the recreational use of marijuana was legalized, although businesses will have to seek licenses in order to operate which could be a lengthy process. The earliest that can happen is Jan. 1, 2022, but for now an individual can have and use up to 3 ounces of weed anywhere where it is legal to use tobacco products.
Under state law, municipalities are eligible to opt out of allowing cannabis retail operations by adopting a local law before Dec. 31. Though that would mean a cannabis business could not operate within its borders, the caveat is, a municipality would lose out on its share of the 4% excise tax imposed on the sale of cannabis products.
In a straw vote taken Tuesday night, at least five of the nine-member council said they want to see the city — which could be a potential hot spot for such businesses in Ontario County, as could the city of Geneva — allow the retail operations.
Councilmember Renée Sutton said by opting out, the city loses “a really valuable revenue stream,” one which could also take money out of the hands of drug dealers.
“I think there are real benefits,” Sutton said during a City Council planning committee meeting Tuesday.
Both Mayor Bob Palumbo and Councilmember Dan Unrath, who is running this year for mayor against Palumbo, are on the same side of the issue. Palumbo cited the revenue loss and noted that customers will go elsewhere for products and return home, leaving the city to address any potential issues but not the revenue.
“It is legal. It is here,” Palumbo said.
Should City Council decide to opt out of the law, city residents can then force a referendum on the issue, which, depending on timing of the decision, could be put to a vote during the November general election. That scenario would ultimately give residents the power of decision, which is partly why Councilmembers Stephen Uebbing and Jim Terwilliger support opting out.
“I would like to see it in their hands,” Terwilliger said.
Also, by opting out now, Uebbing said the city has the opportunity to later reverse course, an option which is not available to it if the city opts in at this time.
While some tweaking of the proposed areas where cannabis retail would be allowed, essentially operations would be proposed for existing commercial areas, such as downtown and by Canandaigua Lake. They would be regulated as tobacco shops and bars are now.
City Manager John Goodwin noted that the businesses also would be subject to state regulations. While nothing official has been proposed, Goodwin said there is some interest in businesses operating a dispensary in the city, although it’s at least a year away before a license is even issued to a business in Canandaigua.
The state has to still develop its regulations and licensing procedures as well as hire staff for it, Goodwin said.
“It’s going to be a while,” Goodwin said. “There are a lot of unknowns. We’re just trying to be prepared when things start to come our way.”
The city is allowed to regulate cannabis on public property, Goodwin said, such as parks and public sidewalks and parking lots. For instance, open consumption of alcohol is prohibited in parks, as cannabis use could be.
Councilmember Erich Dittmar, who supports opting in, said businesses would not be able to open up and do what they want.
“We have the power to regulate,” Dittmar said.