Village to allow cannabis, town won’t

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Left to right: Granville Village Board members Lisa Ackert and Dean Hyatt, Mayor Paul Labas, board members Gordon Smith and Dan Brown.

The village of Granville is going to allow cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption establishments while the town of Granville opted out on Oct. 21.

After three public hearings, the Village Board voted unanimously on Dec. 6 to take no action on the question, which means the state law will allow cannabis establishments to operate with proper licenses and certifications.

Mayor Paul Labas and the board members explained their individual stances on the topic.

“My opinion is that unregulated, illegal substances tend to be tainted very well and harshly. Every day, you can open the paper or watch the news and hear the word ‘fentanyl’,” Labas said. “There are people under the age of 21 that are going to drink and there are children that are under the age of 21 that are going to get marijuana or other drugs.

“It is my opinion that the more regulated a drug is and the more monitored a drug is, although it may not be good, it may be bad, but I do believe it will be a little bit more safe,” Labas added.

Two members of the public who spoke at the final public hearing expressed concerns with allowing cannabis establishments in the village.

Former educator Peter Byer, who has been a Granville resident for 13 years, used his full five minutes to speak on physical and emotional damage cannabis use can apply to the brain, especially to youth, according to medical research he said he found.

“Research shows that the use of marijuana can have permanent effects on the brain when use begins in adolescence, especially with regular or heavy use. And that’s from the National Institute of Drug Abuse,” Byer said. “We want our teens to take risks…if risky behavior involves marijuana, I don’t believe it operates in their best interest.”

Labas responded to Byer by ensuring the sale of cannabis would not be accessible to youth.

“I know it is a controversial law, but I do know that New York State has passed the law and has legalized it,” Labas said.

“I want to make this very clear that this law states that this (cannabis) will not be sold to teens,” Labas said. “This will be sold to adults 21 and over, very much similar to liquor.”

Board member Dean Hyatt spoke on his personal experiences with hemp for severe arthritis in his hands.

He said he believes the medical benefits of cannabis use could make life easier on individuals with health issues.

“If people say there are medical benefits that derive from this, I’m going to listen to them,” Hyatt said.

Hyatt touched on the 3% sales tax the village would receive for a cannabis establishment to operate in the village, which the town will now miss out on half of by opting out.

Occupying another building on Main Street and providing jobs would be a “home run for the village,” Hyatt said.

Also speaking in opposition was former judge Phil Berke, who has lived in Granville his whole life and served as Justice of Peace for the Town of Granville for eight years, Washington County District Attorney for six years and Washington County judge for 24 years in both felony drug courts and juvenile drug court and as a state judicial officer.

With his years of experience, Berke claimed allowing cannabis establishments would be not only be a public health issue, but a public safety issue.

“I have experienced what the use of marijuana does to adults as well as children,” Berke said. “The first thing they taught us in law school… you have free speech up to a certain point. You cannot go into a movie theatre and yell ‘fire’. You cannot drive your car more than a certain speed. We have laws for that. This is not a question of free choice. Marijuana is regarded by any counselor throughout this country as a gateway drug.

“They are terrible to deal with,” Berke said. “You cannot trust the state of New York, and I mean that from my personal experience. I would hope that you would opt out, it would be the best of everyone’s concern.”

Hyatt acknowledged Berke’s statement of dealing with the state’s involvement in village affairs as difficult, but felt the positives outweigh the negatives.

“I don’t think the legislation is quite there either. I think they are going to play catch-up as we go along with this whole thing,” Hyatt said. “At the end of the day, I’d say I’m certainly in favor of this.”

After recalling a personal anecdote where his neighbor’s son had used laced marijuana, board member Gordon Smith said the number-one priority needs to be regulating cannabis sales, usage and possession.

“We need this regulated, it’s not going away,” Smith said. “It’s here.”

Along with Hyatt, Smith realized the financial upsides to collecting the sales tax in the village.

“In the years I’ve sat on this bench, our revenue streams have absolutely disappeared. Absolutely disappeared,” Smith said.

Dan Brown was the only board member to state he was not 100% decided on the issue, as he understood both sides.

“Unfortunately, I’ve got the old-style, conservative me saying ‘uh-uh’. Then I have the new style that my kids are in my ear, the young kids that I deal with, the young adults that I’ve known for 10-15 years that are saying it’s out there now,” Brown said.

What Brown was 100% settled on was the reasoning for state officials to pass the cannabis legislation in the first place: what he believes to be a financial gain.

“The only reason it’s legal in New York State, and you can quote me on this, is those SOB’s down in Albany figured out how to make money off of it, and that’s the bottom line, They figured out how to make a revenue off of it,” Brown said.

Brown said he also feels the removal of stopping and searching a vehicle or subject for the probable cause (smell) of possessing or consuming cannabis is putting officers at a disadvantage.

“The only other thing I will say is that it also takes a tool away from our law enforcement,” Brown said. “I’ve got a tough time with that… I still want to do more research on it, I don’t trust the state of New York.”

Board member Lisa Ackert described the situation as a “double-edged sword” but now that cannabis consumption and possession is legal, the board needs to look at the scenario in a positive light searching for benefits.

“New York, unfortunately, tied our hands. It’s legal, I don’t want to walk down the street next to people (using it) either, but we don’t get a vote on that,” Ackert said. “Dan (Brown) covered a lot of the similar feelings I had and it’s all about the dollars now.

By taking no action, the board cannot reverse its decision in the future. As for the town board, that municipality can reverse its decision at any time if it sees fit by making the decision to opt out.

New York State legalized cannabis consumption and possession of up to three ounces this March. A misdemeanor would be between three ounces and eight ounces, and a felony being anything higher than eight ounces.