SCHENECTADY — In a reversal, Schenectady will allow marijuana dispensaries and smoking lounges within city limits.

The City Council on Monday rejected a resolution that would have allowed the city to opt out, an abrupt departure from last week when lawmakers in committee informally voted to apply the brakes in order to glean more public feedback.

Three of the five sitting City Council members voted against a ban on dispensaries and lounges. Two seats were vacant at time of the vote.

Four votes would have been needed for the city to have opted out: Only Majority Leader John Polimeni joined Marion Porterfield in voting for the resolution. (Newly-minted councilmembers Doreen Ditoro and Carl Williams were seated after the vote.)

Five people had weighed in on the issue on Monday, a process city Councilwoman Marion Porterfield criticized as an “unfair process.” 

“We did hear from a few people,” Porterfield said, who preferred to take a wait-and-see approach. “But because the clock almost ran down on this, we didn’t really have an opportunity to really put it out there for people to come.” 

Porterfield unsuccessfully offered an amendment to have a public hearing for a local law to opt out, which died on the floor without a second council member to support it.

Local governments in New York have until Dec. 31 to adopt local laws opting out of permitting the facilities as part of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act.

Porterfield reiterated concerns that lawmakers didn’t have enough time to study and debate the issue, including neighborhood impacts, public safety concerns and zoning issues.

Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas struck a pro-business tone and said she had faith in zoning officials to properly oversee the permitting process, and was wary of freezing out new businesses and creating an unfavorable economic climate.

The outgoing lawmaker, who lost her bid for reelection last month, also took a shot at new council members, questioning whether they would revisit the measure had they formally decided to temporarily opt out.

“I do not have the faith in the incoming City Council that it will be addressed in the beginning of next year and we can’t lose this time,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said.

Lawmakers had initially pledged last week to revisit the issue in 90 days.

Green Leaf Wellness Co. is seeking a dispensary license from the state, and owners acknowledged they would likely relocate if the city opted out. 

“We have been a very big player in the community and we do not want to have to move out of the community,” said co-owner Sondra Stephens.

Cannabis also provides another option for relief for patients with serious medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and cancer, she said. 

Green Leaf, which is located on Union Street, estimated generating $600,000 to $1 million in revenue from the first year and between $15 million to $20 million in gross sales. 

“We will be regulated and over-regulated,” Stephens said.

City resident David Giacalone acknowledged his role as a civic gadfly and said he frequently criticized City Council for rushing decisions based on what he perceived to be limited information and research. 

“There’s simply too much we don’t know,” Giacalone said. “We don’t even know what questions to ask.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy, who criticized City Council last week for leaning towards opting out, didn’t return phone calls seeking comment on Tuesday.


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