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City to give nuisance points to unlicensed cannabis shops 

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Rochester businesses “gifting” cannabis could be assigned nuisance points and shut down under legislation passed by City Council on Tuesday, five months after Mayor Malik Evans introduced the measure.

The legislation would place illegal cannabis sales back under the purview of the city’s nuisance abatement program. Cannabis issues had previously been under the program’s umbrella, with businesses subject to 10 nuisance points for weed violations. But with the legalization of marijuana in 2021, the ability for the city to enforce the restrictions became obsolete.

Nuisance laws are meant to target hot spots for illicit activity, like illegal liquor sales or prostitution, and carry a range of penalties. A business racking up 18 points in a year, or 12 in six months, could be shut down.

The bill passed by a vote of 7-to-2 after lawmakers made one tweak — the threshold for offending businesses to be assigned six nuisance points was raised to 10 pounds of cannabis from five pounds. State law classifies possession of over five pounds in a residence as a Class D felony.

Councilmember Stanley Martin and Vice President Mary Lupien voted no, citing concern of “recriminalization” of cannabis.

“I am going to align with Black and brown folks, who were impacted by marijuana prohibition who are against this law,” Martin said.

Dozens of corner stores, CBD shops, smoke shops, and bodegas around Rochester have been selling cannabis. Some do so under the so-called “gifting provision,” a perceived loophole in the law in which businesses give away weed for “free” in exchange for the purchase of an overpriced item. But some are just selling cannabis without the pretext of gifting.

Councilmember Michael Patterson said the nuisance law is meant to target businesses “misrepresenting” themselves as legal dispensaries. While the state Office of Cannabis Management plans to begin doling out retail licenses by the end of the year, there are currently no recreational marijuana dispensaries in New York.

Patterson also noted the law is not meant to target small-time, individual sellers, but rather businesses flouting state law.

“I want people to know, if they go into a business and they tell you they have a license, they are lying to you,” Patterson said.

The Office of Cannabis Management has throughout the year issued cease and desist letters to businesses selling cannabis across Monroe County. That practice hasn’t made a dent in the number of businesses operating in the city.

The city’s lawyer, Linda Kingsley, said the concern is businesses feigning legal operations attracting other elements of crime, as well as selling and marketing to minors.

“This is just another way for us to assist in the neighborhoods where there are problems with this,” Kingsley said. “When I’m talking with one of the neighborhoods in the city, it was pointed out, repeatedly, that this corner store is a concern, and one of the concerns is it illegally sells marijuana.”

The change to the nuisance law took effect immediately.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.
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