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Niagara Legislature urges state to OK local growing of medical marijuana

LOCKPORT – With the state having legalized medical marijuana, the Niagara County Legislature would like to see it grown within the county’s borders.

The Legislature passed a resolution Tuesday urging the state to grant a license to Herbal Agriculture LLC, which is owned by some owners of Modern Disposal, to grow marijuana for medical use. Legislator Kathryn L. Lance, R-Wheatfield, a cancer survivor, was the main sponsor.

The state requires medical marijuana to be grown indoors in a secure facility. “I am confident the H2Gro facility will be secure,” said Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson, who noted that medical pot is not smokable and is far weaker than illegal pot.

Herbal will use an existing hydroponic greenhouse that was built to grow tomatoes. In 2004, the county Industrial Development Agency granted a 15-year tax break for the original 7-acre greenhouse, under the name H2Gro. The greenhouse has been expanded to 12 acres, with the addition fully taxable. Gary E. Smith, a Modern executive who is one of six owners of Herbal Agriculture, said he’s not sure if the tax break is transferable to the marijuana enterprise.

Smith said the 12-acre greenhouse could produce about 2,000 pounds of medical marijuana oil per year. He said the company has obtained the rights to grow a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado, called Charlotte’s Web. Only five licenses to grow medical marijuana will be issued statewide. It costs $210,000 to apply, and the license, once received is good for only two years. A renewal costs another $210,000.

In another matter, the Legislature voted down a resolution sponsored by the Democratic minority that called for the censure of Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, for making allegedly false statements about the county’s share of Seneca Niagara Casino revenue.

Updegrove contended that when the Legislature set up a mechanism for spending the money Dec. 9 – 75 percent to municipalities, 25 percent under Legislature control for local projects – that state law barred the county from spending any of it in Niagara Falls, because the Falls already receives casino cash.

Updegrove’s statement has been publicly deemed false by State Sen. Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, and Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston. But that doesn’t mean the county has to spend money in Niagara Falls, and the Republican-controlled Legislature voted down a resolution from the four Falls Democrats that would have repealed the ban. Virtuoso said, “They told a lie because they didn’t want to give Niagara Falls the money.”

Town of Lockport Supervisor Marc R. Smith called the Falls’ funding demand “an affront to taxpayers across the county.”

“The cost of problem gamblers extends across the county,” he said in the public comment period. “Niagara Falls does not maintain the Social Services Department. It does not maintain the County Jail. … I’m going to ask that Niagara Falls stop hogging all the money.”

The Legislature then passed casino cash allocations for some municipalities: $66,656 for the City of Lockport; $64,653 for the Town of Lockport; $99,419 for North Tonawanda; and $57,057 for Wheatfield. The allocations are based on population.