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March 31, 2021 - 6:17pm

Gov. Andrew Cuomo today signed a bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 and over in New York State, action that will be the subject of much debate until and following the new law’s implementation, which is expected in about 18 months.

The Batavian reached out to local government representatives, substance use prevention professionals, hemp producers and retailers, law enforcement and the chair of the Genesee County Libertarian Party for their thoughts on New York becoming the 15th state with legal recreational marijuana.

Chris Van Dusen, president, Empire Hemp Co., Liberty Square, Batavia:

“I think it is really exciting news. The legislation that they have come up with, I think is pretty fair and it doesn’t cut out the potential for small businesses to get into the industry. I think it is a good plan, and the taxation is not too out of control on it.

“I am looking forward to expanding our business into the ‘rec’ market through another corporation that we will start – not Empire Hemp Co. – but we will plan on being involved in a processing capacity.”

Van Dusen said the facility in Liberty Square is for processing – “where we turn all of the raw hemp into CBD oil” – and he is close to opening a retail store on Main Street.

When asked about the legislation having safeguards against marijuana getting into minors’ hands, he said he believes that a new Office of Cannabis Management will implement guidelines similar to what are in place for alcohol use.

“And I think that a lot of the tax dollars will be going back into treatment programs and social programs, and that will be a benefit to the community as well,” he said.

The law, which was passed on party line voting in the Democratic Party-controlled Assembly and Senate on Tuesday, calls for a 13-percent excise tax, with 1 percent going to the county and 3 percent earmarked for the municipality (town, city, village) of the dispensary.

“The growers and the processors are going to get into it, there’s going to be an upfront investment. But as far as the end user costs at the retail level, I don’t think it’s going to be much outside what you are seeing in the other legal states as far as what you get for what price or, frankly, what you find on the black market. I think it hopefully will take more out of the black market – having it regulated like this will allow for a cleaner, safer product that’s regulated versus what’s coming off the street – imported from who knows where.

Batavia City Manager Rachael Tabelski:

“Without having a chance to read the entire bill yet, I can safely say that if there were a dispensary within the City of Batavia, it is my understanding that the city would gain 3 percent of the tax revenue related to that dispensary.

“That certainly is a brand-new revenue source … but it is all hypothetical until you have one. I want to continue to read through the legislation and we’ll be working with NYCOM (New York Conference of Mayors) – the city’s association. So, we’ll wait and see what their guidance looks like. The local level does have some decisions to make in this. We don’t have any decision-making on adult use, but we do have decision-making on whether the city allows for a dispensary and then we can regulate the times, place and manner through local zoning.

“Whether Batavia has a distribution point in the city or not, people will now be allowed to use it per the regulations and guidelines that came out. If that is the case, it might warrant a legislative choice (by City Council) to be made or the choice to do nothing, and just let it happen. I certainly will be getting information to City Council to help them understand the legislation and how communities align with the legislation.

“There’s growing, there’s retail and there’s use. No matter what happens with the growing and the retail, there is going to be use in our city. It’s going to happen, in that, if we have the ability to bring in revenue, that may be an option for us. We certainly will have some growing pains associated with legalized use and, especially, kind of the edible product that might be included in this.”

Shannon Ford, director of Prevention, Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse:

“From a Prevention perspective, I’m very concerned about this. Legalizing marijuana will have a negative impact on our youth for sure. Although youth will not be able to use marijuana legally, we know there will be an increase in access if the adults in their lives are possessing and using it.

“In addition, over the last couple of years, youth perception of harm of smoking marijuana has decreased. With more media messages and legalization/commercialization, I anticipate the perceived risk of harm will further be reduced. Both access and a decreased perception of harm will likely increase youth marijuana use.

“As it is legalized for adult use where it will be monitored for ‘purity,’ youth will still be seeking it on the streets, where we know there is a higher potential of risk.”

Mark Potwora, Genesee County Libertarian Party chair:

“My opinion -- and I would say it is the opinion of the Libertarian Party -- is that it is something that should have been legal a long time ago, and for some reason, what was not legal years ago is legal now. A lot of people suffered because of marijuana laws (on the books). A lot of families and 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids got a marijuana charge that kind of ruined their lives for a while.

“The problem I have with the legalization of the whole thing is that they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. They’re doing it because they want money. They want to raise revenue. They’re not doing it because it’s the right thing to do. That kind of bothers me, but I’m glad that they’re legalizing it.”

Potwora compared marijuana use to alcohol use.

“It’s just like alcohol. It shouldn’t be administered to young kids and there is an age limit. And, along the lines of medical marijuana -- which a lot of people have – it is not a negative. It’s probably a good thing. Whoever smokes marijuana or pot now, I don’t think they’re going to create a whole new industry of pot smokers. If you didn’t smoke it before – because it’s so easy to get – I don’t see any big problem coming up that they aren’t already addressing.

He also said the current marijuana laws give police “an in” to search people.

“They (police) say, ‘Oh you’re smoking pot. Come here, I want to pat you down.’ And they always took it farther and farther. This is one less thing for them to have a reasonable cause to mess with you, I guess.”

Nola Goodrich-Kresse, Genesee Orleans Public Health educator:

“Public Health has had a standing position in opposition of legalization of marijuana in New York State for several years. Our state association, The New York State Association of County Health Officials, officially has maintained opposition to legalized adult use of cannabis, based on the quantifiable adverse impact it will have on public health.”

She then offered the following bullet points for consideration:

  • Legalization will create a similar path to tobacco with the need to build infrastructure and systems around dealing with the downstream issues that will come.
  • Legalization does not mean safe and healthy, it creates a false sense of security and belief, especially in youth that it is safe since it is legal.
  • There has been general support for medical use of cannabis, which has been in place for over five years, and has been effective in helping those with identified medical conditions.
  • Evidence indicates that long-term cannabis use can lead to addiction. There is cannabis withdrawal syndrome, which makes cessation difficult and contributes to relapse.  Adolescents are particularly susceptible as compared to those who begin use in adulthood. Adolescence are approximately two to four times as likely to have symptoms of cannabis dependence within two years after first use.

Jeremy Almeter and Pavel Belov, co-owners, Glass Roots, 12 Center St., Batavia:

"While today is certainly a step in the right direction, we are still far from declaring this our 'milestoned' moment. We at Glass Roots have been committed to destigmatizing and normalizing cannabis for over 15 years. By building trust and serving our community, we have seen there are no applicable stereotypes for cannabis usage.

“ ’Recreational’ cannabis is a misleading term; adult-use is what we are truly achieving today. This legislation specifically addresses and builds the foundation for an infrastructure, which ensures that cannabis products will be handled in a safe and secure manner from seed to sale.

“The fight has just begun. Access to plants and the many benefits they offer us and our animal friends is a basic right. To all the people who grew up indoctrinated with lies that compare cannabis to heroin use or its ‘gateway’ -- we are here to say the light at the end of the tunnel is upon us.

“Moving forward, we plan on working closely with community leaders to cultivate a safe and educational environment for cannabis culture within Genesee County.”

Glass Roots is an on-site glass-blowing facility that sells art pieces as well as CBD oils and other hemp products.

An email and phone call to Genesee County Sheriff William Sheron Jr. were not returned at the time of the posting of this story.

More about the today’s legalization, called the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act:

  • The new law erases convictions for marijuana possession that would now be legal, and directs 40 percent of pot tax revenue to communities of color that excessively faced pot charges.
  • Possession of up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrated forms of the drug will be allowed for recreational use.
  • Three Senate Democrats voted against the bill, which passed 40-23, while no Democrats voted against it in the Assembly, where it passed by a 100-49 tally.
  • State officials are indicating that marijuana sales are expected to generate $350 million in revenue to the state per year, and around 50,000 jobs will be created.
February 1, 2021 - 7:38pm

Ever-changing policies and regulations, coupled with insufficient and reduced funding from Albany, have created a “very fluid environment” that prevents the Genesee County Health Department from looking too far ahead when it comes to its continuing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Public Health Director Paul Pettit conveyed that message to the Human Services Committee of the Genesee County Legislature this afternoon as he presented his departmental review via Zoom videoconferencing.

“We’re kind of entering phase three of this pandemic – the contact tracing piece and the testing – and now with the vaccinations,” Pettit said. “It’s going to be a long haul, but working together I believe we’ll get there over the next four to six months, hopefully.”

Despite the uncertainty regarding funding and vaccine availability, Pettit reported that he couldn’t be prouder of the health department staff – employees working as part of a shared services agreement with Orleans County.

“They’ve gone above and beyond for quite a long time, operating in response mode, which is tiring and stressful,” Pettit explained. “But they’ve risen to the challenge and I just want to tell the committee how proud I am of them. And I appreciate all of the support that the committee and the legislature give, not only to the health department but to all the county staff.”

The health department has been dealing with the pandemic for nearly a year, and that concentrated focus on helping those who have been infected or have had to be quarantined due to contact with an infected person has relegated other departmental initiatives to the back burner.

Pettit said the health department has received $264,576 in COVID-specific grant funding for use through 2022, and has spent about $135,00 thus far, with almost $75,000 of that for employee overtime and other expenses.

“Fortunately, we’ve had those grant funds to cover that, but still that’s a lot of money in overtime to meet the needs of contract tracing and the other activities that have occurred over the past 10 to 11 months,” he said.

He said he is expecting additional funds for vaccination and is waiting to see how that money will be funneled from the state to the counties.

“As we have talked about many times, this will be a significant effort over the next four-, six-plus months to vaccinate our entire population, so there is going to be a lot of expense around that,” Pettit said. “It’s a big effort in front of us so, obviously, these grant funds when they come will be very important to us to offset our public health and local funds – and making sure we’re utilizing them the best we can.”

In an effort to faciliate the county's vaccination clinic scheduling process, the Human Services Committee voted to approve a contract for staffing services from Coastal Staffing Inc., of Naples, Fla., for six months at an estimated cost of $65,500.

Pettit's departmental review touched upon several areas, as follows:


Article 6 is the avenue by which public health departments receive state aid revenue.

Pettit said Gov. Andrew Cuomo is looking to reduce Article 6 funding by 5 percent across the board, which means the local health agency will receive about $38,000 less than expected – down from $757,129 to $719,273.

Concerning performance incentive funding, Genesee/Orleans is anticipating about $10,000 this year, he said.

The health department is facing a 20-percent cut in funding for its lead and tobacco grants for the period of April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021, Pettit said, and may lose all of the funding for its rabies grant (about $15,661).

“In the executive (state) budget proposal there is a cut to the rabies grant – potentially a full extinction of the grant,” he said. “We spend a lot more than that on rabies every year. This grant, particularly, pays for all of our animal clinics that we’re required to do by law and pays for the vaccines for that. Also, for educational things that we do and it offsets some of our post-exposure costs, which is well in excess of $100,000 per year.”

Pettit said he is advocating to get that money put back into the state budget.


Genesee is into the ninth year of its CJS relationship with Orleans with seven full-time shared administrative staff and one emergency preparedness assistant.

“We have a common shared Board of Health, and we continue to leverage that relationship and have shown it to be fruitful during the COVID response and our ability to utilize staffing across the lines to supplement and move resources as needed,” Pettit reported.

He said the counties have finished their strategic planning project in 2020, but have had to hold off on their quality improvement and workforce development plans. He also said they are hoping to gain accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board by 2022.

Pettit added that the CJS agreement recently was expanded to include the Wyoming County Health Department.


Pettit said the updated work plan submitted to the state in December focuses on chronic disease, mental health and substance abuse issues.

He said the GOW (Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming) Task Force is continuing to meet, with the program formally coordinated by Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.

He also praised Ashley Rodriguez, a new Public Health associate, for contributing to the department’s COVID response.

“She is a huge piece of our efforts related to COVID, and is bilingual, which is very helpful (when communicating with Spanish-speaking residents).


Pettit said the county’s septic replacement program has been successful, with 14 households earning reimbursements of more than $86,000 thus far.

“It’s a program that our folks who live in certain areas of the county on certain creeks are taking advantage of,” he said, adding that the program runs through 2022.


“Preparedness is COVID and we continue to spend a lot of time there,” he said, mentioning the department’s preparedness app – a joint venture with Emergency Management.

He said COVID has enabled the agency to build its Medical Reserve Corps, a volunteer group that could assist in the case of future health crises or emergencies, and said county employees have been actively engaged in the continuity of an operation plan that is designed to integrate the various departments as efficiently as possible.


The department’s most expensive program, the Early Intervention (EI) and 3-5 Preschool services are expected to cost $601,500 in the coming year.

Pettit said 136 children are in EI and another 156 in the 3-5 Preschool.

He said there is a push for a shift of fiscal responsibility to schools, noting a "significant increase in transportation costs” since we have to now bus all of our kids out of the county. We don’t have a local center-based program any longer.”

As a result, he is projecting a 91-percent increase in transportation costs from 2020.

“Ultimately, until we get another center-based program back in the county, unfortunately all of our children in Genesee and Orleans counties have to be transported out to surrounding counties for those type of services,” he said.

In a related development, the Human Services Committee recommended the legislature accept an EI allocation of $31,982 from the New York State DOH for the period of Oct. 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2021.


Pettit said a shared W&M director with Orleans County has streamlined the program to realize significant savings for both counties.

In 2020, the division inspected more than 650 devices and collected $16,762 in fees.


Coroner cases increased in 2020 from around 170 to 193, with 61 of those cases being handled by the medical examiner’s office in Monroe County, Pettit said.

He emphasized the need to appoint a new coroner to replace Jeff McIntire, who resigned. The county is currently operating with three coroners instead of four, but can request assistance from Orleans County if necessary.

June 2, 2020 - 1:28pm

Pictured front row: Mary Ellen Messmer, Deborah Restivo, Doris Delano, Kayla Shuknecht. Back row: Kerry Miller, Kerry Ohlson, Carla Wahls, Melissa Pless. (Not in photo: Gail Pettit.) 

Submitted photo and press release:

“We are pleased to announce the Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments’ nursing team are members of the 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) U.S. Tuberculosis (TB) Elimination Champions,” said Brenden Bedard, deputy Public Health director of the Genesee Orleans County Health Departments.  

“Our nurses partner to test and treat TB disease and latent TB infection in migrant farmworker camps. Working together with Oak Orchard Health, a local federally funded qualified health center, they have adapted how they provide directly observed therapy to better match the schedules of their clients.

"This partnership allows them to provide TB screening and treatment for TB disease and latent TB infection to more than 70 migrant farmworker camps in both counties."

The cross-jurisdictional agreement between the two counties has allowed our nursing team to collaborate on projects such as this for the past eight years. Not only does this help financially, but allows both counties to provide coordinated services in an effective and efficient manner.

“We are continuing in our efforts as chief health strategists to look at how our departments can combat illness and disability and assessing emerging health needs to improve community health,” said Paul Pettit, director of the Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments.

“This team approach to monitor and address the needs of priority populations in the community will help in our efforts to eradicate TB.  We commend our nursing team for their efforts and diligence."

For information on Health Department services contact the Genesee County Health Department at: 344-2580, ext. 5555, or visit their website.

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