By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
The city of Oneonta has no plans to opt out of recreational sales of marijuana, according to local politicians.
In New York’s legal marijuana bill, which passed April 30, municipalities are able to decide to opt out on marijuana dispensaries by Dec. 31.
However, there is no movement to opt out in Oneonta. According to Mayor Gary Herzig, no one on the Common Council has advocated for the city to opt out.
Herzig said he is in favor of the city taking no action and allowing itself to be a candidate for dispensary licensees to operate in the city.
“It’s not much different than what the country went through with alcohol,” Herzig said. “Cannabis has been used regularly for over 50 years.”
Herzig’s term expires at the end of the year, which is at least a year before any dispensary would open. However, the mayoral candidates running are both Common Council members and neither plans to request an opt-out vote this year.
Len Carson, R-Fifth Ward, said he hasn’t heard anyone in the council say they want to opt out.
Carson said while he can definitely “smell it more,” it’s the users’ “legal right.”
“I think it’s going to take our community time to get used to the smell and the use,” Carson said, but expressed how local government would have a say in the time and manner where sales can take place.
“There are options for the general public to raise concerns,” Carson said. “They shouldn’t think there are no options.”
Councilmember and mayoral candidate Mark Drnek, D-Eighth Ward, said the logistics of opting out aren’t clear.
“You’d be accurate if you were to say it may be complicated,” Drnek said.
Drnek also said the value of revenue from the sale of marijuana in the City of Oneonta “would be considerable. If the city has one more revenue stream then that revenue stream is going to provide options to produce more things,” Drnek said. “That’s a really positive thing.”
Drnek said cannabis use is “not an issue of contention anymore.”
“Do we want Massachusetts to make more money or should we?” Drnek asked, speaking of the ease of driving to a place where the municipality didn’t opt out.
Herzig said since marijuana was legalized, he had not heard from OPD that there was a significant spike in incidents.
OPD Police Chief, Christopher Witzenberg, said he was less concerned about marijuana use and more concerned about dispensaries being robbed, because it is currently a cash-only business since it is still federally illegal.
Herzig said it was a sign of changing times. He related how a friend said if someone told him years ago that marijuana would be legal and plastic bags illegal, he would have told them he was crazy.
A new revenue stream would come from the sale and taxing of marijuana, which he said was all for the good.
“There are many things we can’t afford,” Herzig said. “The only thing that can change that without raising taxes is new revenue.”
Under the law, 4% of taxes from the sale of marijuana will go to New York, with 3% going to municipalities, including Oneonta, and 1% going to the county.
If Oneonta, or any municipality, decided to opt out, they could have a “permissive referendum” which would only need 10% of the number of votes cast. But the municipality retains the rights to control the time, place and manner of sales for marijuana, a lot of which would be subject to zoning laws and would establish hours and would have to go through review for a special-use permit.