Penn Yan holds hearing on cannabis ‘opt-out’

John Christensen
The Chronicle Express
Penn Yan's Village Hall was filled to capacity with residents wanting to hear and be heard on the issue of cannabis/marijuana sales and consumption within the village.

PENN YAN – The Village of Penn Yan Board of Trustees held a public hearing Tuesday, Sept. 21 to hear comments from the public on whether cannabis sales and use should be restricted or regulated in the Village. And the public turned out in a capacity crowd with sharp divisions in their opinions on the matter.

In the public notice, Village Clerk/Treasurer Gary Meeks listed six potential issues:

1. Whether to prohibit sales and on-site consumption establishments in the Village (socalled "Opting Out")

2. If not prohibiting such sales and on-site consumption establishments in the Village, whether to restrict them to certain zoning districts of the Village

3. Whether to prohibit cannabis smoking in Village parks and playgrounds for the protection of non-cannabis smokers, including children

4. Whether to prohibit cannabis smoking on Village streets and sidewalks for the protection of non-cannabis smokers, including children

5. Whether to prohibit all smoking in Village parks and playgrounds for the protection of non-cannabis smokers, including children

6. Whether to prohibit all smoking on Village Streets and sidewalks; for the protection of non-cannabis smokers, including children.

Andrew Rude, from the Council on Alcoholism & Addictions of the Finger Lakes, suggested looking at what the City of Canandaigua is considering: a complete ban on smoking of any kind on public property. Rude later commented that the “opt-out” was a loophole intended to give municipalities the time to establish their local codes on cannabis. Others added that they don’t care about what people do at home, but they don’t want to smell or see it in public, advising it be restricted much like alcohol consumption.

Several people spoke of the benefits of having a cannabis dispensary available in Penn Yan for those who require marijuana for medical reasons who must currently travel to Rochester or Syracuse to obtain it. They also mentioned the good that would be done with the tax revenue that would come from marijuana sales. A woman who described herself as a former heroin abuser said that marijuana use helps her and others from relapsing.

Pastor Leo Galletta of the Penn Yan Bible Church advised the village “take the moral high ground” rather than seek the money that would come to the village from the tax on marijuana sales. Pegg Smart agreed, warning of “moral decline.” They and others repeated several old tropes regarding the physical and mental damage done by marijuana which were promulgated by the federal government after the repeal of Prohibition; a tactic that targeted the Black and Hispanic populations disproportionately. Others added the dangers of drugged driving and the risks to children who might consume edible marijuana products.

Yates County Republican Committee member Marsha Devine stated she was firmly in favor of the people’s right to have marijuana and believed in the benefits to many. She also refuted the health and welfare fears expressed by others, stating that any criminal behavior such as drugged driving should be punished rather than the rights restricted.

Milo Town Board member Gene Spanneut said he was in favor of allowing sales in Penn Yan and Milo, but objected to the way the law was passed with the “opt-out” which was creating further division in the state.

Marla Hedworth, of the Laurentide Inn and Brewery, read a prepared written statement by Philip Rahr, president of the Friends of the Outlet who could not attend. Rahr reasoned  that it would be a waste of time and money for Penn Yan to try to outlaw something that the state has made legal and is already strictly regulating. (See his Letter to the Editor on page 4A.)

By the end of the meeting, what seemed divisive at the beginning became a wide spectrum of views, with some altering their stance after hearing from other members of the public.

The Village Board and the townships have until the end of the year to decide to opt-out. Even if they decide to not opt out, they still retain the power to establish local restriction codes regarding locations and times for sales and consumption.