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Petitioners file to put marijuana to a vote


Petersburg Borough voters may get their chance to have a say on whether or not commercial cultivation and retail sale of recreational marijuana is allowed later this year. Last Wednesday, an initiative petition was filed with the borough, saying the community should have a local vote to determine the fate of the marijuana industry in Petersburg, according to a resolution received by borough clerk Debra Thompson.

The initiative and referendum application, sent to the borough on June 22, asked, “Should Petersburg Borough prohibit the cultivation and sale of recreational marijuana?”

The borough clerk has two weeks to certify the application is in proper form and confers to borough requirements. If the application is certified as being in proper form, a petition will be provided to the sponsors of the initiative to circulate for signatures, according to borough code.

The issue of recreational marijuana sales and the opt-out option came up multiple times at the borough assembly’s meeting last Monday. The borough assembly voted 6-1 against putting the issues on the October 4 ballot at its previous meeting.

Last Monday, multiple residents asked the assembly to reconsider the decision, saying the public needs to have a voice on the issue. Petersburg resident Michael Mullen was one of many locals to speak at the meeting.

“I don’t personally support retail pot, but if the whole community voted and it passed, I’d say O.K.,” Mullen said. “But if I wasn’t given an opportunity and the community wasn’t given an opportunity I would feel cheated.”

Robert “Doc” Lopez said he also desired the “voice of the people” to be heard, and he is seeing a “disturbing” trend with the assembly of not allowing residents to be heard. Lopez accused the assembly of not acting in good faith by circumventing and subduing the voice of the people.

Jeff Pfundt said he was against the legalization and sale of retail marijuana in the borough. Pfundt echoed the sentiments of Lopez, and said his argument had a lot of logic behind it.

“I think the public should have a chance to vote next fall whether or not there’s actually a place of sale in town like is proposed and I ask you guys to reconsider that,” Pfundt said. “Give us a chance to vote. I think there probably would be a pretty good turnout.”

Resident Grant Trask took the opportunity to speak about the dangers of driving while impaired, using a personal example where someone made a “horrible mistake” and drove under the influence of a controlled substance. Trask said with an increase of marijuana in town, there would be an increase in danger to the public safety of Petersburg.

Susan Burrell attended the meeting and spoke of her plans pertaining to her pursuit of a retail marijuana store. Burrell took issue with a recent letter to the editor in the Petersburg Pilot from assembly member Kurt Wohlhueter, concerning the opt-out option. She asked Wohlhueter if it was his “ulterior motive to scare everyone” and seek the opportunity to re-establish the now defunct Marijuana Advisory Committee (MAC).

“You blew it. If you had been doing the job assigned to you back then and if you had at that time thought that opt-out was a good idea you would have taken care of it then, right then,” Burrell said. “But in reality it was spoken about one time at your committee meeting, at your marijuana committee meetings, and it was shelved immediately, do you remember?”

The comments by Burrell prompted Wohlhueter to ask the assembly if he could “change hats and become a citizen.”

“Everybody has misquoted me that I’m still trying to get rid of marijuana,” he said. “When in reality all I’m trying to do is just give the voters the chance to weigh in on an opinion that is very contentious.”

After stepping down from the assembly chair Wohlhueter approached the podium to clarify his stance. He said he wanted to re-establish the MAC, and formulate questions reflecting the will of the voters for the October ballot.

“My intent was never to opt-out. I’ve noticed I’ve just read an article here that said I’m still pushing to opt-out. All I’m asking to do is give everybody options,” he said. “Every single voter, one vote, one voice. So now I’m going to be one of seven. Instead of I’d rather have two thousand people voting on this if they all turn out.”


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