When Rochester’s first licensed marijuana dispensaries open, possibly not until 2023, the rollout must be orderly, not clustered along thoroughfares but “done with some style.”
Those are Mayor Malik Evans’ words. During a Wednesday briefing with reporters, he provided a broad-strokes vision for how the city might regulate the time, place and manner of how businesses operate in the budding industry.
“That will be a very important piece of the conversation, you know, where we allow these places to operate,” Evans said.
“Do I want six marijuana dispensaries on Genessee Street?” the mayor continued, “If you ask me that, the answer is, ‘No, I don’t.'”
New York legalized recreational marijuana last year and has set down basic rules, prohibiting sales or consumption near schools, playgrounds, libraries and places of worship. Municipalities could “opt out” of allowing such operations in their jurisdictions. But the city decided in December it was all in, and now can enact rules that are more restrictive, within reason.
Those discussions have just begun, led by the mayor’s appointed Cannabis Business Preparation Committee. An initial public information session is set for 6 p.m. April 14, with details to come.
A rough timeline, released Wednesday, has the city hosting public input sessions on zoning and regulations as well as business development and education in May and June. The administration’s goal is to propose regulations in the summer or fall.
Most municipalities in Monroe County opted out of all cannabis sales in their jurisdictions. Statewide, however, just one in 10 cities and a third of towns and villages chose not to participate, according to state regulators.
The challenge comes in ensuring that taxes generated by the legalized market benefit those communities most harmed by a disproportionate number of marijuana-related arrests in the past. And that the individuals most impacted have access to and can participate in the business start-ups. But that the affected neighborhoods are not then saturated with dispensaries and lounges.
“We in the African-American community already have enough pawn shops, liquor stores and check cashing places,” Evans said. “So, you know, we have to have that conversation, right? We’ve got a lot of that stuff already.”
Neighbors also want grocery stores, banks, bakeries, he said: “We’ll have to thread the needle there.”
Evans left open the possibility of outlets locating along commercial corridors while leaning into more industrial areas as potential locations.
“One thing about Rochester is we have a lot of great space,” Evans said. “And we have a lot of empty space. So how can we make sure that we put it in places where it fits within the character of the place that we are putting it?”
City Council President Miguel Meléndez, referencing the mayor’s remarks, said he wouldn’t want to see a disproportionate number of shops on Genesee Street and none on Monroe Avenue or Park Avenue.
“I don’t know how we regulate that,” he admitted. “But I don’t want to do something that will over-regulate the industry as it starts up.”
City lawyers are consulting with officials in Massachusetts, Colorado and the city of Los Angeles about lessons learned when marijuana was legalized in their locales.
Issues vary, based on whether it is a growing operation, processing center, retail dispensary or consumption lounge, officials said. A processing center can generate noxious odors,while dispensaries and lounges generate traffic and security concerns.
Already, storefronts have sprung up, with opportunists trying to get a jump on the market by operating as unlicensed defacto dispensaries,”gifting” a baggie of marijuana with the purchase of a significantly overpriced item like a T-shirt. The city is considering legislation that would crack down on such operations.