Mayor-elect: New Commission will prepare Rochester for budding marijuana economy

Marijuana

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Mayor-elect Malik Evans held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to announce details regarding the new Rochester Cannabis Preparation Commission.

Evans said the Commission, made up of elected officials, community members, and more, will assess everything to make Rochester prepared for when retail licenses are available, including what has worked and not worked elsewhere in the country where marijuana is legal, issues of equity and fairness, policing, how tax revenue will be spent, and more.

As part of New York state’s legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana, municipalities statewide have a December 31 deadline to decide of they will opt in or out for sales in their locality, as well as allowing potential consumption lounges.

“It is very important that Rochester is prepared,” Evans said. “Like Wayne Gretzky said, we’re going to where the puck is going to go, and the puck is in the cannabis market.”

While local governments still have a few weeks to make their decisions, several — like Gates and Pittsford — have already opted out. Governments who choose to opt out on sales or consumption lounges will have the ability to revisit and revise their laws in the future.

The mayor-elect said the goal of the Commission is make sure Rochester is ready as soon as New York state begins issuing recreational sales licenses. He said the Commission would also focus on equity and the social aspect, and make sure that those in legacy markets would be able to participate in the budding enterprise.

“There are cities where this is happening,” Evans said. “We want to learn what to do do and what not do. If people are left out, particularly Brown and Black communities, we will miss out on a major opportunity. The only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to be prepared. Planning is a major role in this and I think we have one of the best planning groups in the state.”

The mayor-elect said the Commission is focusing on the preparation stages in the early going, weighing what has worked and hasn’t worked elsewhere. He said the state is aiming for spring 2022 when it will start issuing retail licenses.

“What we do with tax revenue from the marijuana sales — this is also something the Commission will be looking at,” Evans said. “We are a long way off from sending out licenses. This is a blank slate. We are building, we haven’t decided all of this yet. All of those things is what we’re going to have conversations about.”

“This is as close to a unicorn that we will ever get,” said Rochester City Councilmember Mitch Gruber. “We are sitting on the precipice of more than a billion dollar industry, basically overnight. We are going to see a huge amount of investment coming into Rochester.”

Evans says the committee will be co-chaired by Ebony Miller Wesley, Director of RIT Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Truman Tolefree, Founder and Managing Principal of Intersection Realty Group. Councilmembers Mitch Gruber and Michael Patterson, community member Jeffrey Medford, members of the Evans Administration, Special Assistant to the Mayor John Brach, Chief of Staff Tammy Mayberry, Director of Planning Kevin Kelly, and Corporation Counsel Linda Kingsley will fill out the initial commission.

After years of attempts, New York’s lawmakers voted to legalize recreational marijuana for adults earlier this year.

New York will join more than a dozen other states that have legalized cannabis, including neighboring New Jersey.

New Yorkers won’t be able to immediately purchase marijuana; the state still needs to set up rules around sales and a proposed cannabis board. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes estimated back in the spring that it could take 18 months to two years for sales to start.

Marijuana sales could bring the state, reeling from the monetary impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, about $350 million annually. New York would set a 9% sales tax on cannabis, plus an additional 4% tax split between the county and local government.

It would also impose an additional tax based on the level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, ranging from 0.5 cents per milligram for flower to 3 cents per milligram for edibles.

“We have had people call us, from big companies that want to invest here,” Gruber said. “There will be so much demand that if we are not prepared — we are going to make the chance to make this work for everyone. We need thoughtful strategies for those who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, and give them to build wealth and ownership from this.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re looking at an opportunity that is the equivalent of getting in the ground floor of air,” said Rochester City Councilmember Michael Patterson. “The money generated here that will be invested in this community will be phenomenal.

“The law is wonderful, but the rules are unwritten,” Patterson said. “I hope everyone can participate in the new legal market and prosper from it.”


Watch the full press briefing

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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