City plans to opt out on state’s pot law

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WATERTOWN — The City Council will take the first step on Tuesday night to keep marijuana dispensaries from opening up in the city.

In an informal vote three weeks ago, the City Council instructed City Manager Kenneth A. Mix to draft a law that would ban the sale and distribution of marijuana in the city.

On Tuesday night, council members are expected to schedule a public hearing on July 19 for the public to weigh in on the issue.

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.

Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith thinks that crime would increase in the city, especially in proximity of where dispensaries would open. He’s heard that burglaries, robberies and break-ins have occurred in other cities that have legalized dispensaries.

“I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the city to have them,” 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 consumptions could cause. Issues with the black market also could get worse, he said.

Anita K. Seefried-Brown and Tammie Miller, both of the Alliance for Better Communities, also offered council members a variety of reasons to opt out of the state law that went into effect March 31.

The organization just finished up completing 12 focal groups of children between seventh and 12th grade that yielded information about legalizing pot, alcohol use, smoking and other types of drug use.

They’re concerned that pot use would increase in the community now that it’s legal for personal use.

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.

Mayor Smith said that it’s not worth the little money in city revenues that would be generated by having the pot businesses.

Councilman Ryan Henry-Wilkinson was the only council member who supported them when the issue was discussed during the work session. He said opting out will not solve any of societal ills caused by marijuana, so why not receive the $30,000 or so generated in revenue by the tax.

The ban would not take effect for 45 days. If the city opts out, a public referendum would be held if someone circulated enough signatures on a petition to stop the law.

If the public referendum is approved, the city must then allow dispensaries. However, the city would use zoning to limit them in certain areas of the city.

The petitions cannot be distributed online; they must be circulated with actual signatures, Mayor Smith said.

The council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the third-floor council chambers of City Hall, 245 Washington St.

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(4) comments


Watertown and most of Northern New York is so poverty stricken and dumpy looking that God forbid they allow new business that might spruce up the community and bring some income to their backwoods economy. No problem, Syracuse is only an hour's drive to Syracuse and we have better munchies here before you head back! 😂


Best decision the city could have made. Watertown doesn’t need a pot shop, let the natural business cycle take it’s course..


It must be nice to be able to be so discriminating that you can easily say no to new businesses. I think they may have a stereotypical view of people who use cannabis, tho. OTOH, if it keeps Matt Gaetz away it’s probably a good decision.


I went to college in Lubbock, Texas. The city of Lubbock is dry, meaning alcohol can't be sold there. But just outside the city limits there's a single block along the highway with a dozen liquor stores. That's where everybody goes to stock up.

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