Two advocates speak out about opting in for cannabis dispensaries

Kelly March is a mother of three teenagers, a local business owner, and someone who believes in following state mandates. 

The Batavia resident is also a patient advocate and cannabis ambassador who encouraged Batavia Town Council members Wednesday to opt into allowing cannabis retail dispensaries.

“When you opt out, you’re not making it safer; you’re giving the legacy market license to flourish,” March said during a public hearing about proposed cannabis legislation that would allow dispensaries and on-site consumption of the product. 

March was one of two speakers and about a half dozen quiet supporters at Batavia Town Hall. She supports the reformed marijuana laws that would ensure safe, high quality cannabis in this area, she said. 

Otherwise, by opting out of the move, Town Council members are side-stepping legal ways to provide and sell marijuana, she said, and opening up opportunities for those that sell on the “legacy market.” Legacy is the more acceptable term nowadays for the previously used phrase “black” market, she said. 

“By banning the legalized market, it will increase use by the youth,” she said. “Batavia is a community rooted in farming. We have cannabis now … We want the right to be able to pursue our own business, just like distilleries in the area.”

March foresees craft cannabis products available, just as craft beer, wine and liquors have become popular. Aside from the business end of the issue, she also spoke of the Compassionate Care Act, which has gradually been adopting less restrictive policies so that patients have an easier way to access medical marijuana. Right now patients have had to deal with “a plethora of issues,” she said, including affordability and access due to dispensaries being at greater distances.

A medical card-carrying patient herself, March knows only too well the hassle of driving two hours to obtain relief through cannabis treatment, she said. Having to figure out what to do with one’s children while visiting a dispensary only compounds the problem, she said. 

March founded her business, Genesee Cannabis Club, in 2018. It provides educational programs for women to empower them as part of the work force, she said. There is no down side to allowing for dispensaries locally, she said. 

“I urge you to please think about it,” she said. 

Although Penelope Hamilton Crescibene is not a recreational cannabis user and was once “petrified” of all the pitfalls she heard about marijuana, she has become a vocal advocate of its use. Batavia was her sixth board visit to address issues of opting out of cannabis dispensaries, she said. 

“People are afraid of this change. The old fear-mongering is alive and well,” she said to The Batavian. “I get calls all day long from people needing help.” 

Crescibene was diagnosed years ago with rheumatoid arthritis and the auto-immune disease of Sjögren’s syndrome. Once on heavy loads of prescription opioids to lessen the pain, she eventually turned to cannabis. Within 30 days she was off all opioid drugs, she said. 

“I learned all about the science. I learned about this plant,” she said during the hearing. 

The East Pembroke resident is director of community engagement for The Cannabis Community, which shares information through “education, awareness and access.” She is also a medical adviser for Empire State’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, known as NORML, and wants to help inform individuals and groups about this topic.

There have already been cannabis sales locally, she said, and people are driving on the roads.

“We already know people are using this,” she said. “If it was legal, we would be able to grow it like apples. If you give the option of opting out, you are saying ‘you’re welcome to stay and continue your illicit sales.’  You’re also opting out of taxes.”

She urged the board to help address the stigma associated with who uses marijuana: the majority of people are patients medicating their health conditions, she said, versus the stereotypical notion that minorities are using it more heavily than other populations. 

“Let’s start working together and start educating,” she said.

During a previous meeting, Batavia Town Board voted to have the public hearing to obtain community member feedback on the resolution. One option is to enable the municipality to opt out of allowing cannabis retail dispensaries and on-site consumption sites through New York’s Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act.

Supervisor Gregory Post had said he didn’t think the town had enough information from New York State to “enter into something that we could never get out of.” He suggested that the town take more time in making an affirmative decision. The board can always opt in at a later time, he said, once more details are available. Post had also expressed concern regarding the vote of five board members, citing that it probably “isn’t a clear and transparent representation of the whole community.”

The board will vote on the resolution at a future meeting. 

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Photo above: Penelope Hamilton Crescibene speaks during a Batavia Town Board public hearing to opt in or out of cannabis dispensaries.

Advocates Kelly March of Batavia and Penelope Hamilton Crescibene of East Pembroke advocate for allowing cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption, per the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act in New York. 

Batavia Town Board receives feedback about its future vote on cannabis dispensaries during a public hearing Wednesday evening at Batavia Town Hall. 

Photos by Howard Owens. 

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