WATERTOWN — A LaFargeville resident has gathered about 450 signatures on an online petition in support of allowing marijuana dispensaries in the city.
Marty Robinson began the petition in response to the City Council expecting to pass a local law that would ban the sale and distribution of marijuana in the city.
Mr. Robinson, who advocates for the use of marijuana, said the government, even at the local level, is interfering with the people’s rights to make their own decisions.
“We just celebrated Independence Day,” he said. “You’re telling me we don’t have the right to choose.”
The City Council took the first step on Tuesday night to keep marijuana dispensaries from opening up in the city. Council members unanimously agreed to schedule a public hearing at 7 p.m. July 19 to get input from the public about the local law.
According to the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in March, cities, towns and villages can decide to opt out of allowing retail dispensaries, although they would have to forego those tax revenues generated by the marijuana establishments.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith expressed concerns that it could increase crime in the areas where marijuana businesses would open.
He also said “there are lot of misconceptions” about those kind of businesses, including that banks will not be able to loan money to would-be pot entrepreneurs because banks are federally regulated and it’s still against federal laws regarding marijuana.
Council members said they support opting out of the state law now, so it will give the city time to see how the businesses would impact municipalities.
However, Mr. Robinson said the mayor’s comments cause “a stigma” against people who smoke pot. The petition would allow people “to get their rights back,” he said.
He expects that he’ll be able to get enough signatures to force the referendum.
Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero also thinks it’s headed that way, too, adding that Mr. Robinson has the right to proceed with a petition.
Councilman Leonard G. Spaziani said the city needs to protect itself from unforeseen issues caused by the opening of dispensaries and to proceed “on the side of caution.”
“We want to make sure we do this right,” he said.
During a work session three weeks ago, Police Chief Charles P. Donoghue told council members about the problems that dispensaries and places of consumption could cause. Issues with the black market also could get worse.
If the city doesn’t opt out, the city would receive 3% of a 13% excise tax from the retail sale of marijuana in the city. The city must officially opt out by Dec. 31.
Mr. Robinson confirmed with the city clerk’s office and with City Attorney Robert J. Slye that he’s completing the online petition correctly, despite warnings from Mayor Smith that Mr. Robinson needs to follow the process properly.
Other communities in the area, including the town of Watertown, are expected to opt out of the state law.