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City of Auburn won't 'opt out' of marijuana sales

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With its mayor and city councilors unanimously opposed to doing so, Auburn will not "opt out" of allowing recreational marijuana retailers and consumption sites in the city.

Mayor Michael Quill and City Councilors Jimmy Giannettino, Terry Cuddy, Debby McCormick and Tim Locastro each told The Citizen this week they do not support passing a local law that would prohibit those businesses from opening in Auburn. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act signed into law by former New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo last spring gives municipalities until Dec. 31 to pass such local laws. But with none of the city's five deciding votes in favor, it's all but certain Auburn will not opt out before that deadline.

Giannettino noted that municipalities cannot opt out of any other parts of the state law, which legalized possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana and use of it in most places using tobacco is legal in New York. Limited home growth of marijuana will also be legal after the state's new Office of Cannabis Management releases the law's final rules and regulations.

That reality of the state law must be considered before deciding whether a municipality should opt out, Giannettino said.

"Marijuana is being decriminalized. Whether or not we allow the sale of it is the only thing we can control," he said. "Whether we allow the sale of it or not, we're going to have it."

What must also be considered, Giannettino said, is that municipalities stand to collect a 3% tax from marijuana sales there. In Auburn, that money could offset any local expenses created by the state law, like the training that former Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler told The Citizen his officers will need in order to test drivers for marijuana impairment. 

"With larger municipalities within driving distance of Auburn," McCormick said, "it just makes sense to be able to reap the economic benefits of local sales."

Giannettino said the city is listening to concerns about increased driving while impaired and other potential consequences of legal marijuana. Following an April review of the state law, city council has received feedback from the public both for and against opting out. But Giannettino struck down any suspicions that the city's decision is related to marijuana company Terrapin's plan to build a 100-job production facility in Technology Park. Municipalities cannot opt out of allowing such facilities, he said, and Terrapin doesn't plan to open any retail or consumption sites.

Democrats Giannettino, McCormick and Cuddy also shared their confidence in New York state's ability to regulate marijuana. They expect the Office of Cannabis Management to regulate it the way the Liquor Authority does alcohol, meaning the number of retailers and consumption sites that the office licenses should be limited. When the state law was signed, licensing of those businesses was expected to begin around April 1, 2022, but delays in the appointment of officers to the state's Cannabis Control Board have likely pushed that date back.

Locastro, the lone Republican on city council, agreed with McCormick that opting out would only redirect tax revenue from Auburn to the municipalities that surround it.

The town of Sennett, which shares the commercial strip of Grant Avenue with Auburn, will not opt out of allowing marijuana retailers and consumption sites there, its board told The Citizen. Officials with both Sennett and the village of Weedsport told The Citizen they made their decisions about opting out with the belief that Auburn would not. Weedsport is opting out.

In Cayuga County, the towns of Brutus, Fleming, Locke, Mentz and Springport, and the villages of Aurora, Fair Haven, Port Byron and Union Springs have opted out or are in the process of doing so. The town of Aurelius, where Fingerlakes Mall and Fingerlakes Crossing are located, is still "working on it," Town Supervisor Edward Ide told The Citizen on Oct. 28.

Whatever Aurelius and other undecided municipalities in the Cayuga County area do, Locastro would prefer to see as much tax revenue from local marijuana sales go to Auburn as possible.

"I think there's more to gain and less to lose," he said. "I'd like to give it a shot."

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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