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Politics and Government

Some communities are leaving marijuana sales up to the public to decide

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via Flickr

After a public hearing in July, the Watertown City Council voted to prohibit retail marijuana sales. However, councilman Leonard Spaziani said it’s not necessarily because they don’t want pot in their city, it’s because they want the people to decide.

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

The same thing happened in the town of Geddes and in Camillus–where Town Supervisor Mary Anne Coogan said the town board opted out so the people can choose if they want to opt-in.

“They're the ones that live here,” said Coogan. “They're the ones that have a voice.”

The idea behind opting out of retail marijuana sales and on-site consumption is it gives residents the opportunity to force the decision to a public vote.

In Minoa, Mayor Bill Brazill said he already plans to opt-out of retail marijuana sales ahead of their public hearing in September. He said he doesn’t particularly care if there are dispensaries in Minoa, but it’s just not his decision to make.

Villages, like Minoa, are the only municipalities that can force it to a public vote without a public petition to do so. However, Minoa doesn’t have a scheduled election in November, so they’d either have to hold a special election or put it on the ballot at their next election in March.

Despite the general consensus, the town of Camillus is also trying to force a mandatory vote. This is done through a permissive referendum, which Coogan said is pretty common in government, but can be tricky for the average resident to navigate.

“It’s cumbersome,” she said. “It's awkward. If they don't do it, right, it gets thrown out.”

Dirk Oudemool, the lawyer for the town of Camillus, said he thinks Section 94 of New York’s Consolidated Laws for towns allows Camillus to have a mandatory referendum.

Both Oudemool and Coogan share similar sentiments with neighboring communities that this decision should be made by residents, not town boards.

“It's totally in the hands of the public right now,” said Coogan. “And that's where it belongs.”