Hornell votes to opt out of marijuana consumption sites, dispensaries ... for now

While the resolution passed the Common Council by a 7-2 margin, the city can reverse its decision and elect to allow marijuana dispensaries and consumption sites at any time

Chris Potter
The Evening Tribune
The Hornell Common Council considers a resolution to opt out of marijuana dispensaries and consumption sites in the city Monday night.

HORNELL — Hornell was among the first municipalities in the Southern Tier to put the legalization of marijuana on the front-burner, passing legislation in June that added cannabis to the list of substances prohibited from municipal parks and bus stops.

Monday night, the city became one of the last municipalities in the state to opt out of allowing marijuana dispensaries and consumption sites before the Dec. 31 deadline.

The resolution passed the Common Council by a 7-2 margin, with Democrats John Allison and Jeff Brown opposing the measure.

The city can reverse its decision and opt into the state’s marijuana legislation at any time. Once a municipality gives the OK, the policy cannot be repealed. By opting out Monday, Mayor John Buckley said the city preserves a measure of local control over the process as state policy is still being crafted by the Cannabis Control Board.

“For me, it’s not really about selling marijuana or using marijuana. If the state is going to ask us to do something, they should provide the framework, the regulations and the guidance on how to do it,” said Buckley. “That’s my biggest concern, that we’ll waste weeks and months trying to draft this stuff and get it in place only to have the rug pulled out from under us. Then we’ve wasted all that time and we’re going back to the drawing board.”

New York signed legislation earlier this year legalizing cannabis consumption for adults 21 and over wherever tobacco products can be used, with the exception of driving a vehicle. The law also gave local municipalities the option to opt-out of allowing dispensaries and consumption sites. Municipalities that don’t take action before Dec. 31 automatically opt in.

Hornell’s neighbors in the Canisteo Valley also opted out of the state legislation. Elsewhere in Steuben County, the City of Corning unanimously chose to opt out of allowing consumption sites but voted by a narrow 4-3 margin to opt-in on marijuana dispensaries in the city.

Hornell packaged both questions together in Monday’s vote.

“It gives you time to look at other communities within the state that are opting in to see what they’re having to go through,” said Alderman Jim Bassage. “Even though regulations aren’t there yet and may not be halfway through the year, you can still pick their brain on what they’ve done and how that is working for them.”

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Hornell voters could still force a public vote on the matter. Under state law, opting out of adult-use retail dispensaries and/or on-site consumption licenses is subject to a permissive referendum if enough voters object. An advocacy group in the Village of Wellsville launched a petition campaign to trigger a referendum after the village elected to opt out last month.

Most observers estimate that retail dispensaries won’t open until late 2022, at the earliest.  

“I think it’s just in the city’s best interest to have a wait and see approach and see what regulations actually come out from the Cannabis Board,” said Buckley. “The devil is always in the details. In this case the fine print isn’t even written yet. You have to abide by what the state says.”

Chris Potter can be reached at cpotter@gannett.com or on Twitter @ChrisPotter413. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.