WATERTOWN — Supporters of opening up local pot shops will be making their point by lighting up joints in the median of Public Square on Friday afternoon.
The event is being billed as the “Just Roll With It” smoke out. It’s scheduled to start at 4:20 p.m.. That time refers to 420 or the code word for smoking marijuana.
Lighting up a joint in public became legal for adults in New York on March 31 after state lawmakers passed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which also allows for marijuana dispensaries and on-premise pot shops to open.
But the City Council decided last month to opt out of the law allowing those type of businesses to open in Watertown. Those in favor of the dispensaries are circulating a petition for a referendum that would force them to be allowed in the city.
Corey M. Pentoney, one of the co-organizers of the petition and an avowed pot smoker, said he doesn’t know who’s putting together Friday’s smoke out but it will give his group an opportunity to get people to sign their petition.
“It’s legal and they can light up,” he said about the smoke out.
While some of those involved in the petition drive will be there, there is some concerns about “the optics” of the event and how it will play out with opponents of their efforts, said Chris M. Ebey, who wrote the petition.
“We don’t want to get them angry,” she said.
City Manager Kenneth A. Mix was unaware that the smoke out is being held on Public Square. The event does not need a permit. He also noted that it’s legal for participants to use pot at the event.
So far, the group, with about 20 actively involved, has obtained approximately 300 signatures. They need to get 593, or 10 percent of the city’s population, and have 45 days to turn them into the City Clerk’s office. They’re aiming to collect more than 700.
The petitions are available at the Flashback Lounge, Dusty B’s smoke shop, the Pearl Street Pub and other locales. They also attend the Watertown Farmers Market on Wednesdays and plan to go to the Anchorcon, a gaming event being held this weekend in Clayton, to get signatures.
If they get the necessary number of signatures, the referendum would be held in 2022.
The group has been getting help from the Jefferson County Board of Elections in how to proceed with the petition and referendum, organizers said.
Councilman Ryan Henry-Wilkinson and council candidates Patrick Hickey and Cliff G. Olney III also have lent support in the efforts, they said.
Ms. Ebey describes herself as a recreational pot user who has only consumed it legally. She thinks pot is safer than alcohol.
She’s gone to dispensaries at strip malls in other states that make money for their communities and create jobs. That can happen here, she said.
They’re safer than going to a corner drug dealer, she added.
But opponents contend pot is a gateway drug that leads to addiction to other drugs. They also believe dispensaries increase crime. It also would encourage young people to use pot.
If the city didn’t opt out, it would receive 3% of a 13% excise tax from the retail sale of marijuana in the city.