Schenectady reverses course, will allow marijuana dispensaries


SCHENECTADY — A week after deciding to opt out of allowing marijuana dispensaries and on-site consumption facilities, the City Council on Monday reversed course, paving the way for the facilities to open in the city.

In a 3-2 vote, council members voted down a resolution that would have allowed the city to opt out of allowing retail dispensaries and on-site consumption facilities under the state’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.

The law, approved earlier this year, legalized marijuana for adults 21 and older but gave municipalities until Dec. 31 to decide whether to allow the facilities to open within their borders.

Council members, during a meeting of the Government Operations Committee last week, agreed to opt out in order to gain public input on the law, and to take the matter up again in 90 days.

Under the law, municipalities that opt out have the option of opting back in at a later date, but those that opt-in cannot back out.

But on Monday, several council members said opting out would put the city at a disadvantage and expressed confidence that concerns about cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption facilities in the city could be addressed before the state begins issuing dispensary licenses some time next year.

“I have the faith and trust in zoning and planning and the development department to regulate the opening of any new dispensaries,” said Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow. There’s plenty of time. I don’t want Schenectady to miss out on any opportunity to help bring more businesses to the city.”

Zalewski-Wildzunas expressed support for allowing dispensaries to open last week, but said she gained a better understanding of their impacts on those suffering from chronic illness after doing additional research and talking with residents. 

She added that she did not have faith the incoming City Council will take the matter up in a timely manner next year. Zalewski-Wildzunas lost her bid for reelection in November’s election.

Councilwoman Carmel Patrick, who also expressed interest in allowing dispensaries, citing their potential to reduce crime, said opting out would be a disadvantage for business owners seeking to open a dispensary within the city.

“I really feel if we opt-out, it’s going to be too much of a delay for businesses and everything they need to get done in order to get things into motion,” she said.

Patrick added that she believes dispensaries will allow for better control of the product being sold and would allow the police department to focus on “major crime.”

Councilman John Mootooveren also voted against the resolution, which needed four votes to pass.

Council members John Polimeni and Marion Porterfield voted in favor of the resolution, which called for the city to temporarily opt out and revisit the subject in 90 days.

At the time of the vote, Carl Williams and Doreen Ditoro, who were elected in November to fill two unexpired terms, were not seated on the council. They were sworn in following the vote.

Porterfield moved for the resolution to be amended to set a public hearing, which is needed to pass a required local law to opt-out of allowing dispensaries, but the motion failed to gain any additional support.

Porterfield said she was disappointed in the council’s decision to not hear from the public.

“Opting out simply means we will have more time to discuss this,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t opt-in.”

Several members of the public also criticized the lack of public input in the council’s decision, including those in favor of allowing the dispensaries.

Jamaica Miles, the cofounder of the Black Lives Matter group All of Us, criticized the council’s decision not to solicit public input and said council members must consider the harm done to Black communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana arrests when deciding how to allocate any potential tax revenue the city collects from dispensaries.

“We need to make sure there is true equity and repair to the economic harm that has been done to the Black community when our Black community members were arrested and put in cages for extended sentences,” she said. “How are we going to ensure that this new law, that very much is supposed to repair that harm, will actually do so?”

Mayor Gary McCarthy, meanwhile, said he is looking forward to the city implementing the law, but declined to comment on the equity concerns raised by Miles and others in attendance.

“I’m not going to get beyond that,” he said. “I’m looking forward to implementing this law.”

Patrick, meanwhile, said she shares similar concerns as those in attendance, adding she expects the council will solicit public input on the subject in the months ahead.

“I appreciate what I heard tonight,” she said.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold. 

Categories: News, Schenectady County

William Marincic December 15, 2021
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Vince you are absolutely right.

Mary December 14, 2021
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I am thrilled by this decision and have great faith that the city has the ability to develop a process to get the dispensaries up and running. That will be enough of a lift. And while the process should be transparent; I’m not in favor of letting a small number of inexperts hijack it. If you want to weigh in get a degree in urban planning and public policy. And no, adults aren’t going to seek start buying out of cars on street corners to save a few bucks.

DAVID GIACALONE December 14, 2021
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Once again, the Mayor pressures them, and the Council takes important action (at the request of City Hall favorites) without any significant consideration of facts and policy and pubic interest, and no meaningful public input. Hundreds of boards across the state wisely decided to opt-out so that they could learn more before deciding to opt in. The law was purposely structured in that way.

There will be no dispensaries selling cannabis and creating income streams for another year or more. Opting out had no significant downsides.

Passively opting-in to allow dispensaries leaves the City forced to have cannabis lounges, too. And, the State Cannabis Control Board has the authority to review any new zoning provisions to ensure they do not unreasonably prevent the siting of lounges or dispensaries. The statutory standard the state board will use is remarkably vague: “unreasonable impracticable.”

Do Carmel and Karen know that the Opt-out provisions DO NOT APPLY TO MEDICAL CANNABIS or to cannaboid hemp product (such as the CBD sold by Sondra and Anthony at New Leaf Wellness)?

Should we have faith in the planning office and Mayor proposing adequate zoning changes to protect the public interest and allow retail cannabis only in appropriate locations? Time and again, zoning changes have been virtually drafted by the developers and applicants, and then rushed through the Council with no serious questions asked. Our best hope is that new council members will start 2022 committed to act only when they and the public are adequately informed and there is sufficient time for consideration and debate.

For now, to borrow a word, “disappointment” is the gift the Mayor and a majority of the Council left at our doorstep last night.

VINCE RIGGI December 14, 2021
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Elected officials are in office to represent the general public, and to take the option of opting in before getting all the facts and hearing from those you are elected to represent is a serious betrayal of public trust. To state that you share some of the concerns brought to you by the public and refuse to vote for a public hearing is disingenuous at best and to add insult to injury state that you will garner public input after the horse left the barn is laughable. Not sure what opportunities will be lost by not acting to vote for a public hearing is beyond me. Apparently the mayors arm twisting this past week hurt enough to sway some members. Lastly anyone who truly believes this will curb the street dealing of weed is whistling in the wind. They will continue to purchase at the lowest cost and that obviously will be without gov tax