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Two Cayuga County municipalities moving forward with marijuana opt-out

Marijuana

A legal recreational cannabis store and sign is visible on a road in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. New York state's recently adopted law legalizing recreational use of marijuana gives municipalities until the end of the year to decide if they will opt out of allowing retail sales within their borders.

Two municipalities in Cayuga County are moving forward with local laws opting out of parts of New York state's Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. 

The town of Brutus and the village of Union Springs intend to opt out of allowing marijuana dispensaries to open and consumption site licenses to be issued within their limits. The state law, signed March 31, lets municipalities do that. They cannot opt out of allowing people to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana, grow up to six plants at home or use marijuana in private and select public spaces.

The Brutus Town Board decided to opt out at its June 14 meeting for a few reasons, town Supervisor James Hotaling told The Citizen on Wednesday.

The board felt the community has "enough problems," Hotaling said, and wondered "what kind of signal we'd be sending." Some members "felt very strongly" about marijuana with regard to the town's youth, he continued. Brutus also doesn't have many commercially zoned properties where a marijuana dispensary or licensed consumption site could open.

With those reasons in mind, the board decided to opt out knowing it can opt back in later. The state will not let municipalities do the opposite, Hotaling noted. The deadline for opting out is Dec. 31.

"I suggested to the board to have a vote by the people in the community, but the more we discussed it the more we decided to opt out and see what happens down the road," he said. 

The town's attorney will draft the law and the Brutus Town Board will look to pass it at the board's next meeting on July 12, Hotaling said.

The law would not apply to the village of Weedsport, whose mayor, Tom Winslow, told The Citizen Wednesday that the village board wants to solicit more input from residents before making a decision. The matter was also discussed at a board workshop meeting on Thursday, where Winslow presented information on the state law he collected at a conference of the New York Conference of Mayors.

Meanwhile, the village of Union Springs has altered its plans to opt out. Mayor Bud Shattuck told The Citizen on Wednesday that the original draft of the village's law, written in April, has been revised. He declined to share the revisions, as the members of the village board have yet to hear them. He will present them at a special board meeting sometime in the next few weeks. 

The law will then be presented to the Cayuga County General Municipal Law 239-l, m & n Review Committee in July to determine any intermunicipal impacts. If the committee finds none, the village will look to pass the law at its next meeting on July 20. Shattuck said the village will then host a public referendum on the law within the 45 days required by the state.

Anyone registered in the last local election will be eligible to vote in the referendum, Shattuck said.

"It's fair to the people who are against opting out, and some people in the community are," he said. "It seems like the reasonable thing for the village board to do."

The revisions were made to the village's law for the same reason the board is moving quickly to pass it: the possibility of the Cayuga Nation opening a dispensary at 121 Cayuga St. The nation closed on the property, formerly Gus's Pizzeria, for $225,000 this month. The board has voiced concerns that a dispensary in that location would create traffic jams and negatively influence youth.

However, the village is also concerned the Cayuga Nation could challenge the local law on the grounds of tribal sovereignty.

A spokesperson for the nation confirmed to The Citizen that while it is exploring the possibility of opening retail marijuana dispensaries, "the local law would not impact the Cayuga Nation's decision." 

Under the revisions to the village's law, Shattuck said, the nation would be able to sell marijuana outside the historic district, such as Lakeside Trading. He hopes the Cayugas take that opportunity.

But if the nation indeed tries to open a dispensary at 121 Cayuga St., Shattuck acknowledged that the matter could go to court. In that case, he hopes the state would serve as the village's "legal guardian," since its law would be the origin of the conflict. Whatever happens, Shattuck said, he believes the village has made the effort to accommodate both sides.

"We'll do whatever we have to do and they'll do whatever they have to do after our law is passed and the votes are in," he said.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. 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 auburnpub.com since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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