GORHAM, NY — It will be several more months before Gorham voters decide if the town shall allow retail sales and consumption sites for marijuana. A special election will either overturn or let stand the Town Board decision last December to opt out of New York state’s allowance for sales and sites for adult use of the drug.
On the marijuana decision — “It’s not Cheech and Chong behind the counter,” said local grocery store owner Ann Marie St. George, referring to the 1970s comedy duo depicting hippies and liberal marijuana use.
“We have seasonal businesses, tourism, million-dollar homes,” said St. George, co-owner of St. George’s Grocery & Deli and Pizza Sangiorgi in Gorham. Allowing marijuana sales and consumption sites in the town “is like Neiman Marcus selling jewelry,” she said.
St. George spearheaded a petition campaign that obtained enough signatures to put the question on the ballot. She and others ran a similar campaign in 2013 in Gorham, a town of a little over 4,000 residents on the east side of Canandaigua Lake. That earlier effort turned the town from dry to wet, permitting for the first time alcohol sales in hotels, restaurants and taverns.
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The Town Board plans to schedule a public hearing at its May 11 meeting to pass a local law required to set a special election regarding the issue. Setting a date for the special election will come until after the public hearing, which is likely to be at the June 8 meeting.
Town Supervisor Fred Lightfoote voted last December to opt out of the state’s allowances for marijuana. The vote passed 3-1, with one board member absent. Lightfoote said he didn’t have enough information about the logistics of permitting sales and also had concerns about whether permitting such businesses would make pot more accessible and acceptable to youth. Lightfoote said the special election will give voters a chance to weigh in on the issue and he supports that.
The referendum will lump retail sales and consumption sites into one vote, to fit the way the Town Board worded its opt-out resolution and fit what the petition calls for with a special election.
Charlie Evangelista, Democratic commissioner at the Ontario County Board of Elections, said the Board of Elections can offer guidance in holding a special election, such as providing a list of election inspectors, while the cost and other responsibilities lie with the town. The Board of Elections pays inspectors $225 for working an election, which runs from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. with inspectors putting in additional time before and after voting hours. Evangelista said the Town Board can establish whatever it wants to pay inspectors for a special election.
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Gorham has 2,845 registered voters and two polling places, the Gorham and Crystal Beach fire halls. Each site requires two inspectors, one Democrat and one Republican. The county can provide voting machines if the town wants to use them. Lightfoote said the Town Board is consulting with the town attorney over a timeline, notification requirements and other details regarding the special election.
It’s a mixed bag around the town of Gorham with marijuana laws. The bordering town of Canandaigua opted out of allowing both sales and consumption, while the city of Canandaigua at the north end of the lake allows dispensaries and not consumption sites. Meanwhile, the village of Rushville, in Gorham, allows both sales and consumption sites.