Irondequoit to allow marijuana dispensaries, lounges
While the Irondequoit Town Board held a public hearing Tuesday night on a measure that would opt the town out of cannabis retail, the board’s members ultimately voted for the exact opposite.
After the hearing -- where the vast majority of speakers supported the town opting in to cannabis retail and on-site consumption establishments -- Town Board member Patrina Freeman introduced two motions, one to allow dispensaries and the other to allow on-site consumption.
Both measures passed 3 to 1, with Freeman, board member Peter Wehner, and acting Supervisor John Perticone voting in favor of the measures and member Kimie Romeo voting against them.
Romeo had previously introduced legislation to opt out of dispensaries, bars, and lounges. She argued that it was the only way to get public input on the issue and board members agreed — the public hearing they set for Tuesday was on Romeo’s proposal.
The discussion around the measures was very brief, and it stuck to technicalities. The most meaningful exchange came after Freeman made the motion to opt in, which is when the town attorney told her that the town would be opted in automatically if the board took no action.
Under the act that legalized adult possession and use of cannabis in New York, towns, villages, and cities have until Dec. 31 to opt out of having dispensaries and on-site consumption establishments within their boundaries. They can opt back in at any time.
Gates officials recently opted the town out of both business types. Penfield will prohibit marijuana lounges and bars but will allow dispensaries. Perinton has set a public hearing on a measure to opt out of both businesses for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 at Perinton Town Hall, 1350 Turk Hill Road.
In the village of Pittsford, officials have discussed passing a measure to opt out of marijuana dispensaries and on-site consumption establishments, but have stated they’d like to then put that decision to a public vote. Fairport officials appear open to cannabis businesses in the village and they have not advanced an opt-out proposal.
Before their vote, Irondequoit board members heard from residents who were for and against opting out, as well as members of the cannabis advocacy organization Roc NORML, and cannabis entrepreneurs.
Opt-out opponents generally talked about the economic benefits to the town and emphasized that cannabis is already in Irondequoit. Blocking dispensaries and lounges would mean only that Irondequoit would miss out on new tax revenues and businesses.
Rachel Partington, an attorney who specializes in municipal land use and environmental law, laid out a case for the board to reject opting out. She noted that studies have shown that dispensaries drive property values up, not down; that the town would receive a boost in tax revenue; that allowing the businesses could mean underused and abandoned sites may be repurposed; and that the businesses are highly regulated and expensive to run.
She also told the board about her personal experience with cannabis, which she began using under the guidance of doctors to help treat several autoimmune conditions. By that point, she’d already suffered hearing and nervous system damage.
“If it wasn’t for doctors safely advising me on how to use this product that I could get at dispensaries, medical and adult use, I would not have made it through law school. I would not be standing here today. Literally,” Partington said, explaining that one of the challenges of her condition is standing upright without serious fluctuations in her vitals.
Cannabis regulated her vitals and significantly decreased her pain levels, she added.
On the other side were residents concerned that easier access to marijuana could fuel addiction.
“Not everything that’s legal is beneficial to the community,” said Kurt Sieber, who has lived in the town for 30 years.
Sieber said he spent 20 years doing volunteer work for Adult & Teen Challenge Rochester, handling intake for people addicted to alcohol or drugs. Legal cannabis already concerns him because it’ll make marijuana more accessible in the community and at home.
“It basically opens the door for abuse to the most susceptible individuals in our community,” Sieber said.
Patrick Seche, a town resident for five years and senior director of addiction services for University of Rochester Medical Center, urged the town to opt out to provide more time to examine the benefits and drawbacks of having dispensaries and on-site consumption establishments in the town.
“There is only one chance for the town to opt out,” Seche said. “Opting in can happen at any time and I think it is smart for the Town Board to opt out not knowing, currently, exactly what the regulations are, what the regulations will be, to take its time to make its own decisions for the town of Irondequoit.”
Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.