AUBURN — The Auburn City Council has voted to prevent any new smoke shops from opening for the next six months.
At its meeting at Memorial City Hall Thursday, council approved a resolution imposing a six-month moratorium on establishing and operating new smoke shop businesses within Auburn.
The resolution, on the city’s website, noted that since the state enacted its cannabis law in 2021, the city has seen a bump in new businesses selling smoke-related items, “which has caused great concern among City residents.”
As the state draws closer to issuing licenses for retail marijuana sales, the resolution added, the city anticipates additional smoke shops cropping up in Auburn. City government maintains it has the authority to determine where smoke shops can be located, in addition to the time and manner of these operations.
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Auburn seeks “to maintain the character and landscape of its community, while simultaneously encouraging the growth of businesses and compliance with the Cannabis Law,” the resolution says. The city is currently updating the section of city code entitled “Zoning” and “believes that including new and amended code requirements regulating the establishment and operation of smoke shop businesses is necessary.”
This moratorium on setting up and operating new businesses within the city that plan to “engage in the retail sale of smoking-related products, including marijuana,” is meant to “provide the City an opportunity to review and amend the City Code so that it can reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of such operations.”
Current smoke shops will be grandfathered in. Councilor Ginny Kent showed support for the resolution before council unanimously approved it.
“I think it’s just a very smart decision as we move into a world where cannabis is legal, sold and used, and it really puts our public health front and center as we move forward,” she said.
Councilor Terry Cuddy asked how many smoke shops are currently in the city. Auburn Corporation Counsel Stacy DeForrest said there are nine, which drew a reaction from council. Jenny Haines, Auburn’s director of planning and development, acting as city manager in Jeff Dygert’s absence, noted a smoke shop opened “this past Tuesday.”
“I think this is council’s effort at just trying to get a hold of this issue, so I’m going to support it,” Cuddy said.
He also asked “What constitutes a smoke shop?” and how the moratorium could be enforced. DeForrest replied “code enforcement always comes into play with respect to enforcement in this regard.” For any new smoke shops opening in the six-month moratorium, she added, there would be steps taken to not allow any businesses that violate that moratorium to open, “but I would have to get back to you on what specifically we would do.”
Haines said “code enforcement pressure” is being put on the current nine smoke shops in regard to complying with regulations. She gave the example of lighting issues at some of the shops.
‘You might have noticed that some of them have just really bright and dazzling lights that are distracting, both (for) pedestrians and cars, so we are actively writing violations around that,” she said. Haines added some of the establishments are not meeting signage requirements. She said pressure will continue on the existing shops to ensure they are in compliance with all of the city’s building codes, saying other businesses in Auburn also need to be in compliance.
DeForrest added licenses for cannabis dispensaries have not been issued from the state yet, so none of the nine smoke shops currently open “are actually selling cannabis products.”
Stating his support, Councilor Jimmy Giannettino said none of the existing shops in the city should be selling cannabis products “because nobody’s received a license to do so yet.” He said this resolution “doesn’t reverse our position on the legal sale of cannabis in the city of Auburn, that’s not even a thing yet.”
Giannettino also raised concerns about the signs at some of the shops, saying he believes the advertising at some of these establishments does not conform to health laws.
“You can’t advertise cigarettes and alcohol at a level where children can see, there are all kinds of laws,” he said. “They have flashing lights in their windows that say, ‘Vape, vape, vape, vape.’ I think we need to get a handle on that as well.”
One particular establishment has been at the center of concern for officials. Auburn Smoke Shop, at 67 Franklin St., had been the focus of different criminal investigations in recent months, including an attempted robbery on Dec. 31 and complaints from neighbors. Law enforcement reported finding over 18,000 illegal products, including untaxed cigarettes, marijuana and flavored vaping products, following the execution of a search warrant at the shop in February.
In March, Zakarya H. Alharbi, the property manager for the business, and Mohamad A. Algamal, the owner of the shop, separately turned themselves into the Auburn Police Department for separate arrest warrants for evading $10,000 or more in cigarette taxes. The APD said both were given appearance tickets for Auburn City Court.
During a discussion on the Auburn Smoke Shop at an Auburn Nuisance Abatement Committee meeting in April, Auburn Assistant Corporation Counsel Nate Garland said he spoke with a representative with Auburn-Franklin Ventures LLC, the Rochester-based entity which owns 67 Franklin St. and leases space to the shop, and the representative indicated eviction proceedings would go forward. At Wednesday’s nuisance abatement committee meeting, Garland said he understands that eviction proceedings have been filed.
Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.