By Alice E. Gerard
Kelly Gast enjoys participating in athletic and long-distance endurance events. She is a mountain climber, and she teaches and practices yoga.
“I choose to live a healthy lifestyle,” Gast said via Zoom at the Sept. 20 Grand Island Town Board meeting. “I try to take care of myself as holistically as possible. I don’t drink alcohol, although I don’t shame those who do. I suffer from inflammatory conditions, along with chronic migraines. To control them sometimes requires an obscene amount of ibuprofen and prescription medications that wreak havoc on my liver. I recently turned to cannabis, in either edible or capsule form, to provide me with great relief.”
New York state towns, villages and cities, until Dec. 31, 2021, have the option of passing a local law opting out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or facilities permitting on-site consumption of cannabis within their jurisdictions. If a municipality chooses to opt out, it has the option of opting in at a later date. If the community does not enact opt-out legislation by the deadline, it cannot opt out at a later date, according to the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which was signed into law in March.
Sandra Englert, who spoke at the meeting, explained, “Last month, I reached out to the Town Board members concerning discussion about this opt-out law, and it’s because of the contact with the Town Board members that we are discussing this tonight. I personally favor an opt-out because of my concerns for the public health and safety of our community. I am very aware that many people in this community will have a differing viewpoint. I believe that it is the duty of the board to allow ample and open opportunity for all of the town’s citizens to provide input on this issue. I think that this should include opportunity for open, written comment. I believe that it is the subsequent duty of the board to deliberate carefully on the input and to make a sound decision that is representative of its constituency. Based upon the very short amount of time between now and that Dec. 31 deadline, I strongly urge the board members to enact an opt-out law at this time, and that will allow adequate opportunity to provide for citizen input, to analyze that citizen input, and to make this very important decision.”
Another speaker, Rose Bugman, said, “I didn’t have an opinion when I walked in the door (of Town Hall). I realize that I have several family members who are surviving because they do have this available to them. So, that has to be considered. There are bars all over town, and people drink alcohol, which is sometimes much more harmful to the body than marijuana. It is legal in the state. So, in light of people who really and truly need it to survive, I think that it’s something that should be pondered seriously.”
Nikki Lawley said that the use of cannabis saved her life: “I am a medical cannabis patient. The opt-in provision allows access for medical patients to actually consume and purchase cannabis locally. For me, cannabis saved my life from a traumatic brain injury. We can educate and actually make a huge difference by opting in. We can create an environment for people, such as myself, to consume and educate others on the benefits of plant medicine. I just ask the town to please consider consumption and retail because it’s really needed for our medical community.”
Gast said dispensaries and on-site, adult-only consumption facilities offer economic benefits to the community: “We are in the era of a marijuana economy boom, and I hope that Grand Island reaps all of the benefits. If you opt out, people will travel to other cities and states, which they are doing right now, and those areas will reap the benefits, and so will the consumer.
“When you purchase cannabis from a dispensary, you know that it is safe. Most complications that people have are from the black-market products. They are only smoking it, instead of enjoying various other forms, which include edibles and topicals. Purchasing from a dispensary also provides access. And, lastly, the people working inside the stores know their plants. They know how to adjust without overmedicating or overindulging. Consumers know exactly what is in their bud, oil, concentrate, edible or other cannabis-infused product. You know what it weighs, how much you have. It really can improve your quality of life. Cannabis is legal now, and I don’t think that we should prohibit the means to make it even safer for everyone to purchase. For average people like me, who use the plant for its health benefits, you’ll be ensuring access and peace of mind.”
Dispensaries curtail the business of black-market dealers, Gast explained.
“Dealers are more worried about getting you high than about getting you well,” Gast said.
Alex Schuster spoke about his experiences as a dispensary employee in another state: “I worked at a dispensary in Massachusetts until just about recently. We saw about $15,000 a day coming through. Four percent went to the town. I would like to see that kind of money coming in to the town, and the people who need it (marijuana) get it.”
Gast added, “For average people like me who use the plant for its health benefits, you’ll be ensuring access and peace of mind. Even if the opting-in action leads to a few more people enjoying an occasional giggle, I think that we can agree that might not be the worst thing.”
The Town Board, by a 5-0 vote, decided to refer the matter back to the Town Board for further review.