Village sets public hearing on cannabis

Village sets public hearing on cannabis
Left to right: Granville Village Board members Lisa Ackert and Dean Hyatt, Mayor Paul Labas, board members Gordon Smith and Dan Brown listen to former judge Phil Berke on his opinion of allowing or prohibiting cannabis establishments within the village's jurisdiction.

The October meeting of the Granville Village Board took a turn from scheduled conversation when the public comment session resulted in a discussion of opinions over the looming cannabis decision.

The forthcoming decision to allow or prohibit cannabis dispensaries and/or on-site consumption establishments within the village limits led to community members vocalizing their thoughts, following New York State’s legalization of the possession and consumption of marijuana of three ounces or less on March 30.

Former judge Phil Berke was the first attendee to speak his opinion of the decision by sharing experiences of more than 44 years in the court system.

Although Berke went over the allotted five-minutes, he delivered an emotional speech to the board and fellow meeting attendees on why he felt cannabis should not be allowed to be purchased or consumed at any capacity within the Village of Granville.

Burke mentioned he had handled the Washington County drug court for 10 years. He said he felt people who used cannabis were consuming a “gateway drug,” making them more prone to being led to harder drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine.

“You guys and Lisa should not in any way be conned, and it’s a con-job,” Berke said to the board. “We will become the marijuana capital of the northeast and what you’re doing is taking blood money.”

Berke had a major issue with the local sales tax the village would receive, 3%, especially if the Granville Town Board opts out. He feels the decision, if approved to allow either or both facilities to operate in the village, would bring a presence of state authority into the village.
“We want the state of New York out of the village,” he said.

Following Berke’s statement to the board, Mayor Paul Labas informed Berke that he had inaccurate information.

“Rick (Roberts, Village Clerk) and I were at NYCOM (New York Conference of Mayors) last week and I took a bunch of classes on it, I have some information and sme of the stuff that you are saying is not correct,” Labas. “I will give you a copy of what I got from NYCOM.  I’m not going to debate this with you.”

Next to speak in the Public Open session of the meeting was Molly Biggs-Celani. Biggs-Celani had a differing opinion of Berke.

“I feel that, economically, that the opening of a facility locally to sell whatever they sell, I really feel that I think it is a great motivation for our community,” Biggs-Celani said. “We’re always looking for money to come in here.”

Biggs-Celani referenced her brother-in-law who lives in a Massachusetts village where cannabis dispensaries operate and reel in loads of revenue and tourism, both for the business and the municipality.

“You don’t have to bring your kids there, I don’t have to go there and buy stuff. It’s my decision,” she said. “The fact that it’s available makes a big difference, and I would be strongly in favor of whatever facility might be available in the village.”

Erik Pekar said he understood both Berke and Biggs-Celani’s perspectives, stating there is an economic benefit to the village to collect the local sales tax and increase attraction and tourism to the area, however he does not want to see the cannabis product end up in the hands of minors like the “Space Cadets” of the 1970s.

“If a dispensary opened up, it would corner the market, so to speak. It would drive the illicit dealers out of the district… at least in theory,” Pekar said.

Following the public comment session, the board went into executive session and revealed there will be a public hearing regarding the state cannabis law prior to the monthly board meeting on Nov. 1 held at 6:30 p.m.

“It will be one meeting to listen to the public view on that and we’re going to hear what the public has to say on that,” Labas said.