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Evans launches cannabis planning commission 

click to enlarge Mayor-elect Malik Evans.


Mayor-elect Malik Evans.

Mayor-elect Malik Evans has put together a group to help the city of Rochester host what he hopes will be a booming, diverse, and equitable legal cannabis marketplace.

The Rochester Cannabis Preparation Commission includes City Councilmembers Mitch Gruber and Michael Patterson, incoming city attorney Linda Kingsley, and cannabis entrepreneurs. The mission is to refine many of the nuances of how the market will function in Rochester.

The commission’s top priorities include ensuring people who have faced legal penalties due to cannabis, or members of communities disproportionately hit by criminalization, have a chance to participate in the legal market, Evans explained during a news conference Tuesday.

“If people are left out, particularly Black and brown communities, we will miss a major opportunity,” Evans said. “My goal is to make sure that doesn’t happen, but the only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is if we have good preparation.”

The potential economic impact of cannabis stands to be massive. According to estimates from a 2018 state Department of Health report, New York’s market for recreational marijuana could be between $1.7 billion and $3.5 billion a year. The industry, it added, could create 60,000 jobs.

Councilmember Gruber described the opportunity presented to Rochester as “as close to a unicorn as we’re ever going to get.”

“We’re sitting on the precipice of a more than a billion dollar industry becoming legal and becoming taxable and becoming regulated pretty much overnight,” Gruber said.

Legal and licensed recreational dispensaries and lounges are still a good bit away from happening. Chair of the state Cannabis Control Board Tremaine Wright had announced in October that the regulatory body was working on an 18-month timeline for setting up regulations, placing the start of legal sales in spring 2023.

Likewise, Evans was candid in saying there is no set timeline at all for his planning commission to submit legislation to City Council for approval.

“It’s going to be as long as it takes,” Evans said. “Obviously it’s not going to be forever, but we want to be at least ready when the state does.”

Despite the lack of regulatory framework, cannabis businesses have boomed in Rochester under a so-called “gifting clause,” a policy where retailers give away weed alongside the sale of an overpriced T-shirt or sticker. While the Cannabis Control Board has outright called the practice illegal, that doesn’t seem to have slowed it down at all. This Saturday, for example, the Main Street Armory will host about 90 cannabis vendors in the second “Cannabis Carnival.”

Jeff Medford, a longtime participant in the legacy cannabis marketplace, believes there is real potential to improve the lives of Rochesterians through the recreational market.

“We’re in an important time in history and Rochester can do some wonderful things,” Medford said.

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

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