The evergreen Christmas garland on the dais notwithstanding, the Albany City Council got into a sharp disagreement Wednesday over Councilman Ray Kopczynski’s announced intention to block a ban on retail sales and other commercial activity involving marijuana.
When the prohibition ordinance comes up for its second reading and final vote on Monday, Kopczynski said, rather than voting against it, he’ll abstain from voting. This would yield a 3-2 majority for the ban, not enough to pass it because the city charter requires four votes for the council to act. It would also prevent Mayor Sharon Konopa from casting the deciding fourth vote, because she can vote only if there’s a tie.
Kopczynski said he was driven to this drastic step because the pot opponents had rejected his proposals for a compromise. If retail sales are to be banned, he would like medical marijuana dispensaries to be allowed to sell recreational weed through 2016, which state law allows but the council previously banned.
The marijuana opponents on the council denounced Kopczynski’s plan. Rich Kellum said this kind of stuff makes the council seem like Washington, D.C. Floyd Collins said councilors have a duty to vote. Bessie Johnson accused Kopczynski of undercutting majority rule, but he pointed out that Albany voters had approved Measure 91, which last year sought to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana sales.
The council voted 4-3, with Konopa the tie-breaker, to direct City Attorney Jim Delapoer to prepare an amendment to the council rules to thwart the abstention move. The amendment would count any abstention as a no vote. This would restore the 3-3 tie on the marijuana ban, giving Konopa a chance to pass it.
That amendment will come up Monday, the last scheduled meeting of the year (7:15 p.m., City Hall), but it can’t be enacted at one meeting because at least one council member will object. So unless the council calls a special meeting, neither the rule change nor the sales ban will become law before January. On Jan. 4 the state plans to accept applications for recreational marijuana stores.
Kopczynski could also block the pot prohibition by not showing up to vote at all. But he didn’t want to do that. It would seem like chickening out. (“Chicken…” was part of the word he used when I asked him why didn’t just stay away.)
The other opponents of the sales ban are Dick Olsen and Bill Coburn. Both plan to stick by their positions, and they’ll also oppose the rules change.
If the ban takes effect despite all this, it will be referred to the voters on Nov. 8, 2016. (hh)