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Efforts are underway to repeal Sweden’s law banning marijuana dispensaries and lounges | News

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Click to enlarge

  • Photo by Jacob Walsh
  • Karin Tobin points out some features in the former bank building in Sweden that she and her business partner purchased with the intention of opening a cannabis dispensary in it.

Sweden’s city council has spoken and does not want cannabis dispensaries and parlors within its borders at the moment. But opponents of the move launched efforts to force a public referendum on the measure.

State laws that legalize adult possession and consumption of cannabis, and which provide a framework for establishing legal sales in the state, also allow New York towns, villages and cities to choose not to host dispensaries and lounges. This is what Swedish officials did on November 9.

But a cannabis industry executive and consultant who owns a potential dispensary, as well as a municipal and land use attorney from Irondequoit, is working with Swedish residents to Pass petitions for a referendum in the city benefiting from the opt-out law.

“I want to be able to do this in my own backyard and bring this industry to New York — providing safe access, education, and entrepreneurial opportunities. It’s clear then that there are a lot of The tax revenue that comes with it, too.”

Click to enlarge
The former Citizens Bank building at the intersection of State Routes 31 and 19 just outside the village of Brockport.  - Picture of Jacob Walsh

  • Photo by Jacob Walsh
  • The former Citizens Bank building at the intersection of State Routes 31 and 19 just outside the village of Brockport.

In September, Tobin and her business partner purchased the former Citizen’s Bank building at the corner of Route 31 and Route 19 in hopes of converting it into a dispensary. Sweden’s new law will prevent it from carrying out that plan.

A permissive referendum, a mechanism established by state law, provides a direct means for people to challenge laws enacted by their local governments. To start the referendum, a petition bearing a number of signatures equal to 10 percent of the votes cast by Swedish voters in the last state gubernatorial election must be submitted to the city clerk. That amounts to 253 signatures, said Rachel Partington, a municipal and land-use attorney from Irondequoit who helps Tobin with the referendum effort.

“Really, the point is to get this vote out to the public,” Partington said. People can make their voices heard there. That’s something that I think makes sense to involve the public in.”

In Watertown and the suburb of Manlius in Syracuse, petitions were made for a referendum on local denunciation laws but were rejected. So far, there have been no permissive referendums on cannabis opt-out measures, although some central New York villages have taken a pre-emptive vote.

Click to enlarge
Karen Tobin was drawn to the former Citizens Bank building because of its great appeal and because it was still equipped with a basement, a security system and a car.  - Picture of Jacob Walsh

  • Photo by Jacob Walsh
  • Karen Tobin was drawn to the former Citizens Bank building because of its great appeal and because it was still equipped with a basement, security system and car.

Swedish officials, like their counterparts in many communities across New York, have made it clear that they chose the city outside of dispensaries and lounges because they first wanted to know what the state’s rules would be for both types of operations. Regulations for recreational marijuana dispensaries have been enforced, so there is no licensed recreational cannabis business in New York yet.

Superintendent Kevin Johnson wrote in an email in response to questions from City. “It’s another kind of usual crowdedness from Albany.”

Sweden is not the only Monroe County community that has opted out of subscribing to clinics and lounges.

Gates officials issued a measure banning both types of establishments in the city. Pittsford Village officials have scheduled a public hearing for 7 p.m. on December 14 on the proposed withdrawal law, but have made clear that they plan to hold a referendum on the measure. Partington explained that villages have the ability to do this but cities and towns do not.

Other communities have been clear that they welcome the cannabis trade. During a public meeting, Irondequoit City Council members confirmed that they welcome the dispensaries and lounges in the city. As mayor of Rochester, Lovely Warren was adamant not only about legalizing marijuana, but also about the economic potential that the city’s new industry held.

Click to enlarge
A group in Sweden is distributing petitions for a referendum on a city ordinance that prevents cannabis dispensaries and parlors from opening its borders.  - Picture of Jacob Walsh

  • Photo by Jacob Walsh
  • A group in Sweden is distributing petitions for a referendum on a city ordinance that prevents cannabis dispensaries and parlors from opening its borders.

The Sweden site will be one of three luxury cannabis dispensaries that Tobin aspires to own in New York – and it also wants to open locations in Syracuse and Manhattan.

“If it doesn’t end up in the city of Sweden, I’ll choose another town,” Tobin said.

Tobin is not a newcomer to the cannabis industry, which she entered seven years ago after working in regulatory compliance, largely in the financial services sector. I jumped after noticing that emerging legal cannabis markets in countries were doing so under similar regulatory regimes to those that govern the finance sector.

I have worked for cannabis companies across the country in both executive and compliance capacities. Tobin currently operates a 52-acre plantation site in California, and has previously built a tech platform to sell seeds to cannabis companies. She thought the experience would give her an edge once marijuana was legalized in New York.

“I have worked in every state connected to the internet for medical or adult use for the past seven years,” Tobin said.

The circular, glass-enclosed Citizens Bank that Tobin bought in 1974 was built and was a popular architectural style of the era – round buildings were said to symbolize optimism. The building still has its own vault, which can be useful for businesses that tend to handle cash and store a valuable product.

Click to enlarge
The interior design of the former bank building that Karen Tobin and her business partner want to convert into a cannabis dispensary.  - Picture of Jacob Walsh

  • Photo by Jacob Walsh
  • The interior design of the former bank building that Karen Tobin and her business partner want to convert into a cannabis dispensary.

A sign in front of the building says “Sweden Town” on its south-facing side and “Brockport Village” on its north-facing side, a subtle reminder that the village line is a block or north of the intersection.
It’s also a reminder that even if the pullout continues in Sweden, the village of Brockport has not yet decided whether to allow dispensaries or lounges.

The village council is likely to vote on the issue during its December 6 meeting, according to Mayor Margai Blackman. She supports the dispensaries in the village, but expects the council to be divided.

Tobin and Partington know they have a lot of work to do. But both see the potential for marijuana companies to provide a financial boost to the communities in which they are located. It’s not just about tax revenue, Tobin said, but about opportunities for new and existing businesses.

“You get bruised and bruised when you first go,” Tobin said.

Jeremy Mull is CITY’s News Editor. It can be accessed at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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