WATERTOWN — The public will not get the chance to vote on whether or not marijuana dispensaries should be allowed to open in the city.
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, City Clerk Ann M. Saunders announced that not enough eligible signatures were collected on petitions to challenge the city’s law prohibiting marijuana dispensaries from opening in the city.
Needing 593 signatures, the city clerk determined that only 491 out of the 736 signatures were signed by eligible registered city voters. After what she called “a careful and thorough examination of signatures,” she concluded that 162 of the signatures were not by people registered to vote in city elections. Another 83 signatures also did not qualify for various other reasons, she said.
Mrs. Saunders said that she and City Attorney Robert J. Slye both tried to be lenient in allowing individual signatures but there just weren’t enough even then.
After hearing the news, Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith, who opposed the petition drive’s efforts, simply said in disgust that “162 people were not even registered to vote.”
The petition drive to force a public referendum was the organizers’ one and only chance to challenge the city’s decision to opt out of the state law that was passed in March.
As a result of the lack of eligible signatures, the city has now officially opted out of the state law to allow dispensaries and pot shops.
Organizers of the petition drive were not at Monday night’s council meeting.
Almost three weeks ago when the signatures were turned in to the city, Chris Ebey, one of the main organizers, called it “a victory moment” and “democracy at its best.”
In August, the City Council decided to opt out of a state law that legalizes marijuana dispensaries. If supporters got the 593 signatures, the issue would have gone before the voters in a referendum in 2022.
They had 45 days after council opted out to submit the petitions. They were turned in one day before the deadline.
Supporters of legalizing marijuana cite the potential for tax revenue and re-allocation of police resources to more serious crimes.
Opponents contend that dispensaries increase crime and encourage young people to use pot. They also say marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to addiction to other drugs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use harder substances.