Salamanca council undecided about marijuana sales in city

Since recreational marijuana use was approved earlier this year in New York state, municipalities have until Dec. 31 to decide whether to opt in or out on allowing sales.

SALAMANCA — After a half-hour discussion about whether or not to allow cannabis sales in the city of Salamanca, much of the Common Council is still undecided on which way to go.

A public hearing regarding opting in or out of permitting sales in the city is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27 at the next council meeting.

“We need to do a public hearing, and the sooner the better because we’re on a timeline,” Mayor Sandra Magiera said. “Then we can hear what the public feels and decide from there.”

With nearly all of the city located on the Seneca Nation’s Allegany Territory, the council members had concerns about how much tax revenue could go to the city if there is only a small number of properties where one couldn’t open tax-exempt.

Councilman John “Jack” Hill, D-Ward 1, said he has mixed feelings about it. He said he can’t see very many non-Native-owned dispensaries opening in the city, but the city also doesn’t want to miss out on potential tax revenue if someone did.

“If they don’t get it here, they’re going to go somewhere else,” noted Councilwoman Kylee Johnson, D-Ward 2.

Councilman Barry Smith, I-Ward 3, said he has talked with over 50 different people about it, including at least 30 city residents, and only one person, who does not live in Salamanca, said they did not like the idea of allowing marijuana sales.

“I personally don’t like the idea, but it’s not me but the public we have to look out for,” he added.

Councilwoman Janet Koch, D-Ward 5, expressed concern about a number of small individual locations popping up in the city before they’re legally allowed. She said there are a number of uncertainties on how the businesses can operate, how the Nation and city can work if it is allowed by one but not the other and which law enforcement agency will control it if it is illegal.

“We have a deadline coming up, so I do think we need to make a decision one way or the other,” she said. “I’d like to see what our constituents think before I make the vote.”

Hill noted that if they choose to opt-out now, the city has the option to opt-in later if more questions are answered and they have a better understanding of how the process will work. However, if a municipality chooses to opt-in before Dec. 31, they cannot later decide to opt-out.

One resident in attendance said the city needs to look out for the residents because without regulations there is no way to make sure what is in the product or if it’s safe for consumption.

“Just because someone opens a shop means they know what they’re doing,” she added.

Councilman Paul Myers, D-Ward 4, agreed, saying some sellers would lace marijuana with fentanyl when he worked for the city police department. “It all depends on who you buy it from and who you trust,” he said.

Koch wondered how the city can control marijuana sales if businesses open up on Nation territory before the decision to allow it is made. City Attorney Jeff Swiatek said the law does not specifically talk about what happens to the shops popping up during the interim, and if the city opts out, it is then up to the Cannabis Control Board to prevent retail establishments from setting up and there is no guidance as to whether or not they’d allow some places to be grandfathered in.

“Somebody is allowing them to open because they are opening everywhere,” Magiera said. “Whether they’re doing it on their own or the Seneca Nation is allow it, I do not know.”

According to Magiera, some establishments are technically not selling marijuana but giving it away for free with the purchase of another item to get around not legally being allowed to sell it.

“Now what do we do? How do we enforce it?” Koch said. “They don’t have a license because you can’t get have a license in New York state right now.”

New York state law allows adults 21 and older to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of concentrated cannabis on their person. Adults may possess up to five pounds of cannabis at their personal residence or grounds. Personal possession over the legal limit and the unauthorized sale of any amount of cannabis is illegal and subject to penalties.

Magiera said any establishments opening in the city would have to be in the appropriate zone, so the city would have to look up where the pop-up places are located and see if they are allowed just based on the zoning laws.

Swiatek said he would look into the council’s questions and get back to them before the public hearing with more information.

(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)

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