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Dunkirk Town Board torn on pot dispensaries

OBSERVER Photo by Anthony Dolce Pictured are members of the Dunkirk Town Board during a meeting earlier this week. The board voted 3-2 in favor of opting out of having cannabis dispensaries in the town, though a public hearing is set for July 13 on the matter.

As all local municipalities will have to face, members of the Dunkirk Town Board on Tuesday night discussed whether they want to opt out of having cannabis dispensaries in the town of Dunkirk. By the end of a lengthy discussion, the board voted 3-2 in favor of crafting the opt out law, but scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, July 13, at 5:30 p.m.

According to Dunkirk Town Attorney Jeffrey Passafaro, the timing for municipalities looking to opt out is accelerated, and the Dunkirk Town Board, if they are going to opt out, has to decide by July 19. Because its next scheduled meeting was set for July 20, members moved the meeting and public hearing up to Tuesday, July 13. Passafaro added that by opting out, it would take away the town of Dunkirk’s tax revenue stream from dispensaries.

“If you opt out, you don’t get the tax revenue stream,” Passafaro said. “Also, if you don’t opt out, you have to adopt typical zoning laws, saying what zones they’ll be allowed in.”

Town board members Jay Bishop and Bob Penharlow, who both moved to opt out, expressed concerns over having the dispensaries in the town, noting that the tax revenue stream would not prove to be worth it for what Dunkirk would be bringing in.

“There are some things money can’t buy,” Penharlow said.

But none were as staunch in their objection as board member Henry Walldorff, who made the motion that the board move to opt out.

“I don’t see any reason why the town of Dunkirk should be selling drugs,” Walldorff said. “I am very much opposed to doing so and would very strongly encourage that we opt out.”

Meanwhile, Town Supervisor Richard Purol and councilman Juan Pagan, who accounted for both of the votes against, said this type of business would prove beneficial to the town, and would let them get out ahead of regulating it.

“New York state is not the only state moving in that direction,” Pagan said. “This is what’s coming. It’s going to come whether we want it to or not, generating whatever we can from revenue. If there’s a way we can make this legal, you take that edge off imprisoning people, especially young kids. If we can regulate it and put some restrictions on it to the extent we regulate liquor and some other drugs, I am for opting in.”

Purol said the town has had a couple inquiries for cannabis dispensaries in Dunkirk, but was unable to tell the interested parties how things could proceed.

The board electing to craft the opt out law does not mean the discussion is fully resolved. Even with the board members that voted to opt out, there is room for their opinions to sway based on one thing: What the people of Dunkirk want.

“I would put it in front of our voting public,” Penharlow said. “If they want it, I would go ahead and go along with it. I think there are a few very serious negatives I’m not comfortable with. … We represent the people of Dunkirk. It’s nothing about our own feelings, we’re representing the town of Dunkirk. I’d rather opt out at this point, but I want to hear from the people.”

Penharlow’s sentiment was echoed by Bishop.

“Maybe there’s a huge uprising of dispensaries and legalization in Dunkirk,” Bishop said. “I don’t know. We should hear from our constituents.”

On top of that, should the town of Dunkirk Board officially opt out of having dispensaries in the town, they would be allowed to opt back in at any time, Passafaro said. But once the July 19 deadline passes, their ability to opt out passes with it.

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