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Pittsford village to hold referendum on marijuana shops, lounges


Pittsford trustees have approved a law that would keep marijuana dispensaries and lounges out of the village, but they have also set a referendum where residents could strike down that decision if they so choose.

In doing so, the village board became the first local government in Monroe County to leave the choice of whether residents want to allow retail pot businesses in the village. Under the state law that legalized possession and use of marijuana by adults, all towns, villages, and cities in New York have until Dec. 31 to decide whether they want to allow dispensaries and lounges within their limits.

Village board member Dan Keating said the decision Tuesday evening was intended to give residents a direct say in the decision to opt Pittsford out of or into cannabis retail.

“I didn’t want to see another newspaper article saying, ‘Stuffy Pittsford says no,’ and we deserve it, we deserve all those articles,” Keating said. “...We really did want to hear people’s voices on this, because it is such a big decision.”

In recent years, the board has resisted granting approval to certain types of businesses in the village. In 2018, village trustees, with Keating abstaining, voted to appeal a building inspector’s decision that cleared the way for Hawley Brewing to open in a plaza on Schoen Place, alongside the Erie Canal.

At the time, trustees and former Mayor Robert Colby argued the brewery was explicitly prohibited by the village code. The vote effectively blocked the brewery from setting up shop, but that delay was temporary. Ultimately the village Zoning Board backed the building inspector.

The brewery opened in April as Copper Leaf Brewing Company, which has become popular with craft beer enthusiasts.

Keating said that he sees more resistance from residents to cannabis lounges than to dispensaries, likening those types of operations to bars. State law does allow municipalities to opt out of lounges while opting into dispensaries, which is the approach taken recently by Penfield officials.

“The dispensary is just better known: you come, you pick up, you leave the store,” Keating said. “The lounges create more of a social challenge. People are a little less sure, and I understand that. Is it going to be noisy? Is it going to create people hanging out? What is this thing?”

Keating said the vote to opt out of recreational businesses was more an effect of the way New York’s cannabis law is set up than the board’s position on the matter.

“The solution I think we would have chosen if we had the option was to opt in, and then do a referendum,” Keating said. “But the rules don’t allow that, so we had to opt out.”

The town of Irondequoit and the village of Brockport voted down opt out proposals, while Gates, Sweden, Hamlin, and Clarkson officials approved measures to block cannabis retail in those towns. In Sweden, an effort is underway to force a public referendum on the opt-out decision.

Though recreational marijuana became legal in New York in March, the state process to set up a framework for the legal marketplace has moved slower than many cannabis entrepreneurs and consumers would like. The state Cannabis Control Board’s Chair Tremaine Wright has placed full licensing of businesses on an 18-month timeline, putting the first fully legal dispensaries opening in spring 2023.

Officials expect to schedule Pittsford’s village-wide referendum for early February.

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