Petersburg Pilot -

Borough assembly takes no formal action on marijuana opt-out proposal


The Petersburg Borough Assembly heard more than an hour of public comment regarding Assembly member Kurt Wohlhueter’s plan to propose a retail marijuana opt out measure on October’s ballot.

The Borough Assembly is in the process of adopting a marijuana ordinance that sets guidelines for retail marijuana businesses that largely mirrors the borough’s alcohol ordinance.

There was a mixed response of those for and against an opt out, and others who just didn’t want to see a retail marijuana store downtown.

Gary Morgan recently applied for a limited marijuana cultivation permit and urged the assembly not to pursue such a measure, in part, based on the negative effects of prohibition.

“I think we can all agree that marijuana is presently on the island and likely has been for longer than I’ve been alive,” Morgan said. “It’s not been taxed, there’s been no oversight to keep it out of the hands of minors and at least a portion of these profits have likely made their way to drug cartels, drug smugglers and these profits have been used to bring more dangerous drugs to market.”

Brian Lynch also argued against a potential opt out measure and said it’s not appropriate for local officials to interfere with decisions already made by state regulators and Petersburg voters. He also questioned the rationale behind Wohlhueter and others’ arguments that even though some people may have voted for marijuana legalization, they don’t support a retail market in town.

“I don’t know what the actual motivation would be for voting that way (to opt out),” Lynch said. “Ignorance? Maybe they didn’t read the voter’s pamphlet. Naiveté? They didn’t understand what would be allowed or they didn’t want the stigma of a pot store in town but apparently they have no concern about bars and alcohol sales…whatever the reason this will do very little to curb pot sales in Petersburg and it will simply perpetuate illegal sales and result in lost revenue to entrepreneurs and the borough.”

Sherri Wikan said while she’s not totally in favor of opting out, she doesn’t want a retail marijuana store downtown.

“I’d like to thank Kurt (Wohlhueter) for bringing this issue of marijuana being sold in town to us because that’s nothing that I ever thought of happening and I’ve seen too much of it in Washington state and Colorado where everywhere you drive you see these green crosses and I just don’t care for the symbol and what it stands for,” said Wikan.

After the public finished their comments and a handful of letters were read aloud, Wohlhueter said he’d still like to hear more from the public.

“I hope more people weigh in,” Wohlhueter said. “I knew we would always get the zealots when it comes to these issues right off the get go. But I would encourage everybody, regardless of what your opinion is, for or against, please let us know through an email and make sure you email it to Debbie (Borough Clerk Debbie Thompson) so she can get it all to us.”

Assembly members didn’t quite know where to go on the opt out issue and Thompson gave them a gentle nudge.

“It is a little bit of an issue that in the same meeting we’re going to have the second reading of the (marijuana) ordinance that we have already proposed and we’re going to have the first reading of an ordinance to opt out,” Thompson asked. “I kind of think you guys need to decide which way to go.”

Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht said the assembly still has the option to change the current marijuana ordinance, including things such as limiting the number of permits, setting more restrictive limits on the location or banning the consumption of marijuana in a retail location.

“All of that could be done with the existing ordinance,” Giesbrecht said. “If you truly want to go back to the voters with an opt out then we have to kill this ordinance, which means we default to the state statute until such time the borough makes a decision whether to opt out or not. This has come about so late in the process now that we’ve moved down off of that in a different direction.”

Assembly member Jeigh Stanton Gregor asked Wohlhueter why he waited more than a year and half since voters passed the marijuana initiative.

“A lot of work has been put into this by a lot of people, many hours, more than I would have cared to spend my life doing truth be told…my follow up to you right now would be why go for the opt out now?” Stanton Gregor asked. “Why does it feel pressing as an assembly to take on the opt out option at this point instead of letting a citizens’ committee field the issue?”

Wohlhueter said only now did some people realize that a retail marijuana establishment in Petersburg is a reality and that most people in Petersburg don’t speak up until the last minute.

“You can have a really important issue and you can think that you have given them every opportunity to speak about this issue, you can actually go to them and tell them about this issue but the minute you pass that issue or that ordinance or whatever you’re going to pass they come at you like they’ve never heard about it before,” Wohlhueter said.”

Stanton Gregor said he did not support an opt out and said when the marijuana committee met it was clear that it was focused on how to implement marijuana, not if.

“58 percent, as was cited earlier, of people in Petersburg voted for it, commercial sales not just legal marijuana and I don’t want to be responsible at this point for usurping the vote of the people,” Stanton Gregor said. “They voted clearly and they moved forward accordingly.”

Assembly member Nancy Strand said opting out allows the black market to continue to thrive.

“Opting out says you don’t want to regulate it,” Strand said. “You don’t want to control it. You don’t care who smokes it. They could be 18 or 12.”

Assembly member Cindi Lagoudakis said she’d like to look at changing the local ordinance, not opting out.

“I think we still can add additional restrictions as far as smoking on site or in public or consuming on site,” Lagoudakis said. “Those are the things I think I’m more concerned about at this point. I feel like the voters have spoken and that’s our mandate.”

The assembly did not take any action to pursue an opt out option and will hold another public hearing and review the marijuana ordinance in its second reading at its first meeting in June.

Besides Morgan, Susie Burrell has also applied for a retail marijuana permit. People can still submit comments to the Petersburg Borough Assembly and the state’s Marijuana Control Board.


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