Oneida, NY – What is the fate of retail cannabis in the city of Oneida? City officials have remained silent, and one potential cannabis retailer in the city is skeptical about the future.
Cornell’s Greenhaus, 264 Genesee St., petitioned for a referendum after the council voted 4-2 in November 2021 to reject both retail cannabis dispensaries and on-site cannabis use facilities in the city.
The petition failed, and now it’s up to the council to make things happen, says Jacob Cornell, co-owner of Cornell’s Greenhouse.
In the Dispatch’s coverage of the vote, it appeared that the majority of the council weren’t necessarily opposed to legal cannabis sales in the city, but they weren’t pro-local consumption sites. The city had a deadline to opt out of December 31, 2021. Not opting out would trigger an automatic opt-in that could not be reversed. Instead of changing the wording of the law they voted on to include retail and on-site cannabis use, the council voted to reject both. Some councilors said at the time this would give them more time to opt for either at a later date should they wish to do so.
The two councilors who voted against the opt-out are no longer in office.
Carly Stone – MediaNews Group
During a November 2021 council meeting, Jacob Cornell of Cornell’s Greenhaus urges the Oneida Common Council to allow cannabis retail outlets to operate in the city. (Carly Stone – MediaNews Group)
Months after the vote, Cornell’s Greenhaus feels a sense of urgency to get things moving. Cornell says from a business standpoint, he needs reassurance that when the time comes, he will be able to participate in the market. Retail licenses aren’t expected to be open until 2023, he said, but that date could be closer at any time. There are also various preparations to be made before his business can sell cannabis for the first time. Cornell’s Greenhaus currently sells a variety of hemp and CBD products.
Basically, time is of the essence, he said.
“At this point there’s really not much we can do as a company other than talk to the councilors… I think we’ve done our part for the most part. We’ve come to city council meetings, presented our case, and now we’ve petitioned, and it’s really up to the city at this point,” Cornell said.
“And if the city doesn’t agree by 2023, just from a business standpoint, we’ll have to move.”
In order to submit an acceptable petition, Cornell had to collect 356 signatures from Oneida voters, prosecutor Nadine Bell said. The figure represents 10% of the votes cast in the city’s 2018 gubernatorial election.
Cornell said he doesn’t lack signatures, but he does want each one to be a qualified signature. Of the 365 signatures reportedly submitted by Cornells, Bell said that “at best” 91 signatures counted for the count.
Petitions come with challenges for the hemp store owner, he explained. COVID-19 was no help. “It’s not like we can knock on doors at this time of year,” he noted. Those who supported the petition were instead instructed to come to the store to sign, he said. The problem was that he served people from all over New York, as far north as Watertown. Many probably signed in good faith, even though their signatures were invalid.
Others who supported cannabis retail spending in the city were reluctant to give their names in relation to cannabis legislation, Cornell said. For example, some feared losing their firearms, he said. Others just didn’t want to share their information.
Cornell braced for the future, saying he’s evaluating his options if the city doesn’t make a decision. Delivery is one possible route, he said, but it’s not ideal. “Our game is retail.” Another possibility is to try to put a measure on the ballot for the general election. “But that’s a different process,” Cornell admitted. “The city council can end this in a month.”
The Embassy has reached out to all Council members for comment and has not yet received a response.
Cornell explained that his company is trying to compete with illegal sales already taking place in the city and surrounding areas. Businesses that sell marijuana illegally will continue to do so because they believe the profits are worthwhile despite the penalties, Cornell says. But it’s not worth going to Cornell’s Greenhaus.
“Cornell’s Greenahus will always listen to the rules,” he said, “because we want to be here for the long game.”
He continued: “We have many customers. We help thousands of people every month. We help everyone. We help teachers. We help caregivers. I’ve been helping law enforcement locate things for their family members. We’ve helped retired law enforcement officers. We have a huge military base. Our average customer is over 40 years old.
“We try to do our part in this industry for the local community. But the government agency must be behind us, not in front of us. There are already so many obstacles to getting this right.”
He added: “I hope that the City Council will stop treating this like a drug and start treating it like something that should be a day-to-day business.
“I just want to be treated like any other business owner in town. I want to have the same chances.”
Cornell says the city’s opt-out “is a clear way of saying they’re not ready for marijuana, even though the rest of the city is obvious.”