OBSERVER Photo by Anthony Dolce
Dunkirk Town Supervisor Richard Purol (left), Town Clerk Rebecca Yacklon (middle), and Town Attorney Jeff Passafaro (right) take in Tuesday night’s meeting.

The Dunkirk Town Board voted 3-2 in June in favor of crafting an opt out law required for local municipalities who do not wish to have marijuana dispensaries in its town or village.

Passing the law requires holding a public hearing, which the town did Tuesday afternoon. However, after hearing from the public, the board flipped its decision.

The Dunkirk Town Board came to a 2-2 voting split, which means that the town will not move forward with the law, as doing so would have required three votes.

Councilman Jay Bishop was not allowed to vote, as he attended the meeting over video conference, while New York state recently changed its regulations to not allow members attending meetings over video to vote.

A handful of members of the public showed up, with three of them showing their support for the town of Dunkirk to have dispensaries, with those in favor using personal examples as to why they feel this way.

“I have a young daughter,” said resident Mike Miller, “and when I attended her mandatory freshman high school drug informational class, I never knew that on the street level, marijuana is being laced with fentanyl and bad things that lead to worse things. By having legal dispensaries, that product will be regulated. It will be legal; it’ll be no different than alcohol and things like that.”

Residents Pete Miller and Shari Miller echoed Mike Miller’s sentiments in favor of the town allowing retail dispensaries, while one Dunkirk resident was firm in his stance that the town move forward with opting out.

“Everybody around us will be selling it, why do we need to?” the resident asked. “We don’t know what the future holds with it. I’m totally against it. I’ve seen people that have started with marijuana and went on to other drugs. It’s not like alcohol. It’s much different. It’s a ridiculous comparison.”

Following the closure of the public hearing, discussion went back to town board members, with the four who were able to vote remaining firm to their stances they took at their June meeting. Town Supervisor Richard Purol and Councilman Juan Pagan both advocated for dispensaries being allowed, while councilmen Bob Penharlow and Henry Waldorff were both locked in to moving forward with opting out.

“I don’t think it’s in the character of our town to encourage the sale of drugs,” Waldorff said. “I have not had anybody come to me and say they would be in favor of it, but several people have approached me and said they would not like to have it in the community.”

Pagan then noted that marijuana is already in the town of Dunkirk anyway and will be legal regardless of what the town wants, and he believes the town should embrace it for those citizens that want it.

“People want recreational stuff, and this is one more avenue for them,” Pagan said. “I don’t see where it’s going to have a tremendous impact on our community other than what’s already here. People are smoking it now. Go to any place in our community and you smell it all over the place. It’s here.”

The interesting decision would have come from Bishop, had he been able to vote, as he was on the fence for the entirety of the discussion. While he originally voted to move forward with the opt out during the board’s June meeting, Bishop did research on his own, talking to dispensary owners in other states, and seemed to have flipped sides were it not for one other issue: the town of Dunkirk’s ability to adequately work dispensaries into their zoning.

“My concern is we have limited wherewithal with our zoning capacity in the town of Dunkirk,” Bishop said. “We have limited resources, and in order to do this, I wonder if we have to hire a zoning consultant, and is that the smart way to send resources on zoning? I would much rather spend that on getting the zoning book updated, which we’ve been trying to do for the last several years.”

Pagan seemed to be able to quell some of Bishop’s concerns, stating that the town is already working with a zoning consultant, and New York state is beginning to release some guidelines for zoning. Currently, the zoning consultant is assisting with other matters, but Pagan said they may be able to pick the brain of their current consultant. Even though he was not allowed to vote, Bishop remarked after the voting had concluded that he would have voted to not craft the opt out law and allow dispensaries in the town of Dunkirk.

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