BATAVIA — Two advocates for regulated, legal cannabis markets stepped forward to speak to town leaders during Wednesday’s public hearing. The hearing was about whether the town should opt out of allowing cannabis retail dispensaries and on-site consumption sites.
Board members are considering a local law to opt out, but have not voted on the proposed law.
Kelly March, a mother of three teenagers and property owner in the town, said she is a medical marijuana patient and small business owner. She said she is also a member of NORMAL, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“NORML’s mission is to serve as an advocate for consumers, patients and to (ensure) they have access to high-quality cannabis that is safe, convenient and affordable,” she said. “Now that our state has begun to regulate cannabis commerce, these local businesses will have to come into compliance with the New York state law in order to successfully apply and keep licenses here in our state issued under the New York state new cannabis law.”
That means, in order for them to keep their license, the businesses which dispense marijuana will have to show compliance and implement the new policies and procedures for checking ID at every sale, March said. They will have to keep track of inventory to prevent diversion or inversion and ensure all facilities are secured and monitored along with everything else a regular business needs to do to keep its license and permits, she said, adding the legal market will be regulated and have mandatory safeguards like ID checking. It will be the main, driving force in reducing the legacy market size.
“When you opt out, you’re not making our community safer, you’re actually making it easier for children to purchase illicit cannabis and enabling the legal market diversion and inversion to a legacy market,” March said. “You’re effectively giving the legacy market license to continue operating and serving its residents of the community. If there is no legal market to compete with the legacy market, it will flourish as it is flourishing already.”
These safeguards will exist in the regulated industry, but are not present in the legacy, or underground, market, March said. By banning the retail establishments, the town will increase cannabis use by youth, she said.
“We want the right to be able to pursue a license … so we can grow our own businesses here in this community by using agritourism,” she said. “Just like the small, craft business breweries and distilleries that we have in the area. They have their own tasting rooms and retail shops right on their own properties and the licenses to do so, just like we would like to be able to do with craft cannabis in the future. Farms would host their own consumption lounges and have their own retail shops, just like farmers do today, in agritourism.”
March said she also wanted to talk to the board about patients.
“Those are the people you would be harming too, if you choose to opt out,” she said. “Patients are some of the people that are your friends, your family and your neighbors, and they are (our) most vulnerable community members.”
PENELOPE HAMILTON CRESCIBENE
Penelope Hamilton Crescibene of Corfu said she is a state advocate for patients and social justice with the Marijuana Regulation Taxation Act (MRTA). Crescibene is the director of community engagement for The Cannabis Community and the medical cannabis advisor for Empire State NORML, acting director for Western New York NORML and a member of Start SMART NY.
“I am not actually a cannabis consumer recreationally. I am a medical patient, though,” she said. “I’m 50 years old, graduated in 1989. I’m a Nancy Reagan kid — petrified of marijuana and cannabis. I bought all the stigma, everything that was taught, and just boasted of how I never touched it, never tried it.”
Crescibene said she has an auto-immune illness and rheumatoid arthritis. She said she was misdiagnosed for many years.
“All of a sudden, over 16 years had gone by and I was on prescription opioids,” she said. “They just ravaged my body. I had gotten almost to 300 pounds. I’ve dropped 150. I was bedridden, using a wheelchair and walker in my 40s. I really didn’t know what to do. I had lost my mom. I was so ill, my father needed to care for me.”
Crescibene said she tried cannabis because she didn’t have access to medical marijuana.
“It was a little, infused chocolate blueberry. I had to be illegally healed. It worked. Within 30 days, I was off of all those and a myriad of prescriptions, I also have come off — all prescribed,” she said. “That got me to learn all about the science. I’ve been studying it for years now, got involved and decided to fight for medical patients,” she said. “I stepped over and also went for adult use after I learned about this plant and I learned about why people use it and the social justice problems that we have in New York state.”
MRTA is designed for criminal justice reform and social justice, and to regulate the adult-use cannabis market that’s currently here, she said.
“We know that the previous laws have been ineffective. Minors have had access. We’ve had mass incarceration because of the racist cannabis laws that were there,” she said. “The existing laws have created the illicit market, which represents a threat to public health and safety.”
Crescibene held up a pack of Stoney Patch THC Gummies, which she said included packaging from the illicit market.
“It does look like candy and it angers me. I’m mad as hell to see this and I’ll be the first one to fight in Albany. They’ve already said, ‘We aren’t going to allow this.’ Albany does not want to hand this all out. They want to regulate and make it safe,” she said.
Crescibene said the illicit cannabis market did not ID minors or children. It didn’t have lab-tested products and wasn’t generating tax revenue.
“When you do decide, if you give the message of opting out, it is basically saying, ‘You’re welcome to stay and continue your illicit sales.’ That’s what we’re saying to the minors,” she said. “It’s untested, unregulated products to your community that’s already living here and already consumers.”
Crescibene said Batavia should bring legacy business owners over to the legal market, to give them real businesses, legitimatize cannabis, regulate and tax it.
“That tax money, if you opt out, is also what you’re opting out of,” she said. “That money is earmarked, specifically, for things like drug addiction problems that we do know that we do have.”Town Supervisor Gregory Post thanked everyone who participated in the hearing Wednesday.