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Watertown bans marijuana dispensaries despite public support

Lindsay Fox

Dozens of residents crowded Monday’s Watertown City Council meeting hoping to persuade the council members to allow local marijuana sales. Of the 27 people that spoke at the public hearing, 20 of them spoke in favor of dispensaries.

“It's just crazy,” said one resident. “It's here. It's already here. People are already smoking it. Let us just go and get a legal substance from a safe provider.”

The resident added that if or when her children do start using cannabis, she’d rather them get it from a safe and regulated dispensary than anywhere else. Several residents there shared her sentiments, including Cliff Olney, who is running for the Watertown City Council.

“I think it's pretty evident that people in Watertown are smoking pot, right?” said Olney. “It's the question of where they're getting it from. So if you want it to be safer, I would suggest we have a dispensary here in the city.”

Some residents mentioned the economic benefits of opting in.

“There is overwhelming evidence that marijuana dispensaries provide economic opportunities, improve the accessibility of medical marijuana and reduce rates of opioid addiction and death,” said one woman.

If the city of Watertown chose to allow dispensaries, they’d collect a 3% tax on all marijuana sales.

There were also many medical marijuana users who said a local dispensary would increase access for them considering the closest places to get medical marijuana are in Syracuse and Plattsburgh.

“Every waking moment of my life is pain,” said one resident who has fibromyalgia. “It's hard to even breathe. It's hard to live. So why do you want to make my life any harder?”

Despite these reasons, the council voted 4-1 to prohibit marijuana sales in the city of Watertown. However, it’s not because they’re against cannabis, it’s mainly because they feel that this is a decision the people should make.

So, if they vote no and those in favor of dispensaries can get enough signatures on a petition, the decision will be put to a public vote, most likely in at least 2022.

“I'm going to vote no just so they can get their petition and put it on the ballot,” said councilmember Leonard Spaziani. “That's the American way.”

This law also prohibits any onsite consumption of marijuana in Watertown, and the city council members do technically have until December 31 to change their minds.

Madison Ruffo received a Master’s Degree from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in audio and health/science reporting. Madison has extensively covered the environment, local politics, public health, and business. When she’s not reporting, you can find Madison reading, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends.