County Legislature rejects addition of cannabis to non-smoking policy

(Photo via Getty Images).

The Cortland County Legislature rejected two resolutions that would add cannabis to the list of substances in the county’s non-smoking policy at Thursday’s meeting.

The first resolution would outlaw employees driving county vehicles from consuming cannabis products two hours prior to their scheduled work time or during work hours. The current county policy outlaws other substances like alcohol and this resolution would simply add the phrase “including but not limited to cannabis,” to the legal wording. Similarly, possession of intoxicants in county vehicles “including but not limited to cannabis” would be prohibited under this resolution.

Some legislators voted against the resolution, noting it does not go far enough. It ultimately failed via a vote of 5-to-11.

“Cortland County needs to move forward diligently to bring us in line with other organizations and make our county buildings and grounds completely smoke free. I want all smoking banned from all county property,” said Legislature Minority Leader Beau Harbin (D-LD-2).

Legislator Paul Heider (R-LD-16) took issue with how he perceives the state government is dealing with the legalization of recreational cannabis. Heider ultimately voted in favor of the resolution, but agreed with Harbin in demanding stricter regulations.

“We need to reach out to our state government and get them to stop promoting smoking and drugs to our employees and residents,” he said. “They are doing that now.”

Legislator Susan Wilson (D-LD-5) said she was concerned with how smoking could impact employee benefits.

“If we as a county continue to allow smoking on campus, we are going to feel that on the back end in the form of health benefits,” she said, noting the resolution did not go far enough. “We are just piecemealing things once again.”

A second resolution that would strengthen the county’s no-smoking policy on county property was also struck down by the legislature. The resolution failed by a vote of five-to-11.

This additional resolution, which would have taken effect starting Nov. 1, would prohibit visitors and county employees from using smokable tobacco and all cannabis products on facilities and property owned or leased by Cortland County. The proposal defines these areas as Cortland County maintained buildings, parking lots — including privately owned vehicles while on county property — county parks, entrance lanes, sidewalks, structures, county-owned vehicles, and landscaped areas.

The resolution highlights exceptions to this proposed policy. There are two county-owned or leased areas where tobacco use may be permitted, according to County Administrator Rob Corpora.

“This resolution encompasses the whole campus with the exception of two areas,” he said. “It does enlarge the whole non-smoking area (compared to our current policy).”

Trying to further expand non-smoking policies and spaces beyond what was proposed in the resolution could add to the process.

“Because (prohibiting tobacco usage) is part of the terms and conditions of employment, we would have to go to the labor unions and open negotiations with them,” said Laurie Leonard, the county’s personnel officer.

While Leonard added those negotiations could be initiated by the county at any time, legislators were torn on the matter. Harbin advocated for negotiations to be initiated soon, while Legislature Chair Kevin Fitch, R-LD8, was more hesitant.

“We do not want to go against the union contract because there could be ramifications,” he said.

Heider echoed Fitch’s response.

“I think this policy needs to go back to committee before we send our personnel director to go into those negotiations,” he said. “I don’t agree that we should take away an area for employees to smoke as they have for so many years.”