Penn Yan 'opts in' to cannabis sales, definitively

John Christensen
The Chronicle Express
Penn Yan Mayor Leigh MacKerchar and Trustee Kevin McCloud listen as former Penn Yan Code Enforcement Officer Bruce Lyon takes the podium in the public hearing on "opting out" of retail cannabis sales.

PENN YAN — Months after a resolution to "opt out" of retail cannabis sales within the village of Penn Yan died on the floor without receiving a second to open discussion, the Board of Trustees voted in a split decision Tuesday, Dec 21 to "opt in."

The 4-2 vote immediately followed a public hearing in the Penn Yan Academy Auditorium which was attended by 150 citizens of the village and surrounding towns. Public comments were limited to one minute each and were heard for over an hour.

Those who chose to speak were about equally divided in their opinions. However, the response from the audience to the speakers was decidedly weighted in favor of opting in; judging by the numbers applauding, the divide was nearly two to one.

The other divide that was notable in the speakers was the age gap. The majority of those speaking in favor of opting out were senior citizens, while those in favor of opting in were still of working age.

Those speaking against cannabis sales most often cited their fears: of increased drug abuse, of children being exposed to marijuana as "a gateway drug," of potential impacts on law enforcement and crime rates. Some were still laboring under the mistaken notion that Penn Yan had the power to nullify the new state law legalizing marijuana, and make it illegal to use within the village. Many asked for the opt out to be paired with a referendum.

Those speaking against opting out cited the increased safety of legalized and regulated  cannabis as compared to illicitly purchased marijuana which is often laced with deadly drugs such a fentanyl and sold to those under age. Some pointed out the apparent hypocrisy of marijuana opponents while there are legal bars and liquor stores in Penn Yan which children see daily. And of course, the tax revenue that cannabis sales would bring to Penn Yan was discussed as a practical consideration by several who declared themselves to not be users themselves.

One resident shared that he is a stage 4 cancer survivor who has been getting his medical marijuana from a legal dispensary for years. He attested to how well run and clean they are. "I've been around it long enough to see it doesn't hurt anything." Another person declared she has seen marijuana users and alcohol users for over 50 years and had witnessed violence by those using alcohol but never by those using marijuana.

Once the public hearing was closed, each trustee and Mayor Leigh MaKerchar shared their own views before voting. Trustee Norm Koek and MacKerchar were opposed to on-site consumption "lounges" but not dispensaries. Ray Spencer was swayed by 500 other municipalities that have "opted out." That was countered by Rich Stewart who pointed out that means 1,500 other municipalities are opting in, and described several elements of state regulation that has already been established. Kevin McCloud wanted to opt in so Penn Yan would have control over it. Dan Condella and Teresa Hoban both pointed out that other towns such as Milo have opted in already.

The vote for the opt out was called by roll; Spenser and Koek voted yes, while Condella, McCloud, Stewart, and Hoban voted no.