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Once a major manufacturing hub and “furniture capital of the world,” Jamestown – the largest city in western New York’s Chautauqua County – has in recent years been hard-hit with drug issues and crime, according to its mayor, Eddie Sundquist.
Now, Sundquist and his administration are looking to the legal marijuana market to help revitalize their city. An opt-in community surrounded by a sea of opt-outs, Jamestown is actively soliciting cannabis businesses to set up shop in their town, and taking a unique and proactive approach that Sundquist recently shared with NY Cannabis Insider.
The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
NY Cannabis Insider: Tell me a bit about Jamestown’s approach to cannabis.
Sundquist: Our biggest push has been to focus more on the cultivation, growing and production. We’ve done a lot of work with that and we’re just now moving into the idea of laboratories.
We’ve been really pushing to help people along and in the process, trying to help them understand the system. We’ve toured a ton of people and a ton of organizations through various buildings, locations, and made connections with folks. At one point, we (as the city) along with several other agencies hosted a pretty large panel discussion with industry experts, including labor, growers, attorneys, things like that. We called it Grow Jamestown After Dark, which was kind of fun.
But we’ve certainly been trying to help organizations along and have – from a city perspective – interestingly enough, kind of changed the way that we do business for some of these industries.
We’ve looked at pre-permitting locations for them, ensuring that our fire marshal is able to do walkthroughs and understand where pain points and issues might be. We put together a comprehensive plan for letters of support for any type of businesses (mostly dispensaries) looking to exist or act within the city. We’ve been trying to vet companies as they come along.
We’ve seen it all at this point: From people trying to get the city to invest in companies to pretty large companies out west that are now looking to get into the cannabis market here.
Who spearheaded this proactive approach to embracing cannabis businesses in Jamestown?
Honestly, it was our administration. I was the first one to come out and say, “We need to do this and let’s bring a team together.”
And we found that the community was so incredibly supportive once we started that conversation; that they wanted us to be supportive and to show that we’re working on rebuilding an industry.
Now, what’s interesting about the city of Jamestown is that we’ve been really hard-hit with drug issues – issues of crime and other things. And we were once a manufacturing center … but we’ve lost a lot of that. We still do manufacturing to a certain extent, but for me, I saw this as another form of manufacturing and another industry that if we don’t jump on board and say, let’s create a hub here in the city, we’re going to lose out.
When you had those conversations at first, was the community initially anti-cannabis, or were they already for this idea going into it?
They were for it going into it. I was surprised. We did have a small wave where the city council had the opportunity to opt out and we saw an incredible amount of people write in, show up to meetings, call council members saying, ‘Hey, we do support cannabis in our city. It’s legal, we want to support it, we think it’s an industry.’ And people have been really, really supportive about it.
Not so much in other areas – all around us is very much against it. But we see the economic benefit, and we see this as an opportunity to bring some equity, and to use some funding to support some of the work we’re doing as a city.
Are your demographics different there than all the surrounding municipalities? Do you think that’s why?
We’re the largest city in the county. And so we’re certainly an urban area compared to all of the other suburban or rural areas. So certainly, I think our folks are probably more liberal, more open, more willing to deal with this. What we saw from a lot of the surrounding areas was just a lot of fear and a lot of push from our elected officials, who are not supportive and were trying to get most folks just to opt out.
As you’re going about this proactive approach, are you looking at any other cities or municipalities and how they’ve approached embracing cannabis? Or are you just doing this on your own and starting from scratch?
We did, yeah. A whole bunch of different ones, mostly out west. We also started looking at some of the things New Jersey is doing, as well. But what was really interesting is that as we went through this process, we found that one of the members of our development team worked on a cannabis farm at one point in her life, and she now does financing for our development office. So we had kind of a built-in network and knowledge base.
What has been the interaction between Jamestown and the OCM been like as you get this off the ground?
We’ve had really positive connections with the Office of Cannabis Management, especially through their legislative and governmental affairs team. We’ve kept them updated from the beginning on what the city was doing, and we’ve encouraged them to look at, for example, our community college for future hubs and other things. They’ve been really good at trying to give us some information along the way and helpful thoughts and tips. So, it’s been very positive. We’ve had a really good relationship with them. And we’re hoping to continue that.
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