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Watertown lawmakers lean toward opting out of marijuana sales

Dan Clark

Lawmakers in Watertown will vote Tuesday on whether to become one of the first municipalities in northern and central New York to prohibit the retail sale of marijuana. 

For City Councilor Lisa Ruggiero, this is not the moment for Watertown to legalize any kind of drug.

"Mainly because of the issues that Watertown has right now with drug dealing, illegal drug possession, the overdoses, fentanyl is now being mixed with everything," Ruggiero said.

Ruggiero is part of the majority in the council who are leaning toward opting out of New York's new law, meaning no marijuana dispensaries can set up shop in Watertown, nor can businesses permit on-site consumption of the drug. Use of the drug in Watertown will still be legal, but councilors are concerned about testimony from Colorado officials who have reported adverse effects from selling weed in some communities, such as drug-related car accidents and increased illegal dealing. Ruggiero would rather take a wait-and-see approach.

"The way the law is written, once you’re in you can never opt out of it and so this may be an opportunity to opt out now and then if there are other opportunities that decide they want to opt in, we might be able to see how is it working for them and is it doing everything the state said that it will do such as provide a source of revenue maybe it makes it easier for people to buy marijuana and not buy it from a dealer - that kind of thing," She said.

Councilor Ryan Henry-Wilkinson said waiting too long could backfire as dispensaries could set up elsewhere in the region.

"The way it’s been presented to us, it kind of seems like there’s all this possible adverse effects on the community but it seems like they’re unavoidable no matter what we do," Henry-Wilkinson said. "We might as well get some money for it if this is going to happen regardless of what we decide. We might as well have something to show for it."

If the Watertown city council does vote to opt out of the law, residents could move to overturn that decision in a ballot this fall. An unofficial online petition to do just that already has several hundred signatures. Ruggiero said she is supportive of that idea as she thinks Watertown residents should have the final say on the matter.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.