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City businesses ‘gifting’ weed could be deemed 'nuisances' under new bill


Rochester City Council is set to vote on a bill that would allow the city to issue so-called “nuisance points” to businesses selling cannabis without a license.

The measure, which was introduced by Mayor Malik Evans, is to go before Council on March 15 amid rising complaints from city and law enforcement officials about a lack of clear guidance on how to crack down on businesses thought to be illegally selling weed.

City Corporation Counsel Linda Kingsley said the ordinance is specifically meant to curb businesses engaged in “gifting” weed — a tactic that typically involves a business giving away a small amount of cannabis with the sale of an overpriced item, like a sticker or T-shirt.

RELATED: Where The T-shirts Are Pricey But The Pot Is "Free"

“We’re having discussions with (the Office of Cannabis Management), we’re having discussions with RPD to see how we can deal with this criminally,” Kingsley said. “But the other thing we can do, and sometimes it’s a more powerful tool, is start enforcing under our Nuisance Law and shutting down some of these businesses.”
CITY reporter Gino Fanelli paid $65 for a T-shirt at HempSol and received an eighth of an ounce of Rocket Fuel marijuana as a complimentary "gift." - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • CITY reporter Gino Fanelli paid $65 for a T-shirt at HempSol and received an eighth of an ounce of Rocket Fuel marijuana as a complimentary "gift."
The city has long assessed nuisance points to business that are hot spots for illicit activity such as illegal liquor sales or prostitution. A location racking up more than 18 points in a year, or 12 in six months, is deemed a public nuisance and can be shuttered for a year.

The Nuisance Law previously allowed for businesses linked to the criminal sale of marijuana to be assessed 10 points, but that provision was negated by the state law that legalized the recreational use of cannabis. The bill before Council would effectively restore the city’s ability to take action.

New York lawmakers legalized adult-use marijuana last year, but regulators have not established the licensing framework necessary for entrepreneurs to grow, distribute, and sell it above board. State Cannabis Control Board Chair Tremaine Wright has said licensing will not begin until early 2023.

But several shops in the Rochester area already sell marijuana products, typically by “gifting” it. While businesses engaged in the practice see it as exploiting a loophole, Wright has said the practice is inconsistent with state law.

RELATED: NY Cannabis Board: Businesses "Gifting" Pot Are Breaking The Law

The state Office of Cannabis Management issued cease and desist letters to local cannabis businesses in early February, but few appear to have heeded the warning.

“It’s their (the Office of Cannabis Management’s) contention that this is not what the gifting provision covers, and it’s to my understanding that they’re starting to send cease and desist letters,” Kingsley said. “But a cease and desist letter is only worth what it’s worth.”

Under the new nuisance point system, 10 nuisance points would be applied for a location caught selling weed without a license, and six would be applied for illegal possession, meaning holding more than five pounds of bud or two pounds of concentrate.

“The changes to the nuisance law will allow (the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development) to prevent and enforce against cannabis-related public nuisances related to all sales without a license,” the legislation reads.

Kingsley said she could not point specifically to any businesses on the top of the city’s radar, but said that there have been numerous tips the city plans to follow.

“If there is misuse of the statute, if there are people selling illegally, and we can get RPD or the Neighborhood Service Centers to get us sufficient evidence of that, points will be assessed,” Kingsley said. “With the right amount of points, we can move to close the business.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or [email protected].