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Why two Monroe County towns have opted out of pot lounges for now

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wnyc.org
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  Two local towns, Gates and Irondequoit, have opted out of cannabis dispensaries and marijuana lounges and bars within their borders, for the time being. The laws become effective after 45 days.

In Gates, the decision was unanimous. Town Supervisor Cosmo Giunta said Friday that there were too many unknowns about impact of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). The MRTA was signed into law by former Governor Andrew Cuomo in March allowing for widespread decriminalization of the drug including the creation of these businesses. 

Cities, towns, and villages can opt out of the idea before the end of the year. The businesses aren’t expected to be licensed to operate until 2023. Municipalities that opt out now, can opt in later. 

“You know it's not all about tax revenue,” said Giunta. “It’s about keeping our residents safe. And right now, we don’t think it’s the best thing for our town.”

Opting in to the new law, as Giunta put it, the law puts the backs of local governments “up against the wall,” rushing them to decide now with little knowledge of how and where these businesses will be allowed to operate by the newly created New York State Cannabis Control Board.  
 
“When you look at the (control board) it was just created a month or two ago. And they're still figuring things out,” said Giunta. “It's kind of putting the cart before the horse. First come back with everything and then offer it out to the towns.”

Giunta isn’t ruling out allowing marijuana businesses in Gates. If the town does approve these businesses in the future, he said they should only be in specific zones away from schools and places of worship. Opting out, according to Giunta, allows the town to maintain flexibility. He said town leaders will also get to see what happens in towns that opt in. 

In Irondequoit, things are playing out differently. The Town Board has set a Nov. 9 public hearing on their proposed law which passed by a 4-1 margin. 

The measure was introduced by board member Kimie Romeo and the public hearing was set during the board’s Oct. 27 meeting. The sole vote against the proposal came from board member Patrina Freeman, who introduced an unsuccessful measure that would have blocked only cannabis bars and lounges. She argued that the town should use the extra tax revenue from dispensaries to provide the town police department with funding that would help them deal with things such as drivers impaired from marijuana consumption.

Board member Pete Wehner wouldn’t second Freeman’s motion to consider her proposal, but he stated that he supported it.

Generally, however, the board members lamented the position they were. They argued that the way the state structured the opt-out provision of cannabis legalization impedes their ability to get public input before taking action. The town can only set public hearings on introduced legislation, not on general issues.

“It is kind of working in the reverse of what we’re all used to but it’s just a procedural thing at this point,” Romeo said during a brief interview Friday. “It’s the only opportunity that we have to get it out there and to get the public to respond.”

If a municipality does approve opt-out legislation, residents have 45 days to submit a petition forcing a public vote on the law. 10% of the number of votes cast by residents in the municipality during the last gubernatorial election but be represented in the petition.