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Amid controversy, Canton changes alcohol ordinances

The Canton Town Board has recently made changes to their alcohol ordinances, allowing for the option of public consumption at events.

“As an elected official and Christian, I understand this is a divisive issue,” Alderman Zeb Smathers said. “After hearing from both sides and studying the issue, I voted to allow Canton the opportunity to fully compete with our sister cities as it concerns attracting events.”


In August, the board voted for the change 3 to 1. Alderwoman Carole Edwards voted against the measure. 

“The board is committed to addressing the most common public concerns such as underage drinking and public intoxication during the next step in the process, which is the development of a new special event policy,” wrote Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss in an email. “The amendment is simply an accommodation for events that include responsible beer sales, which has become more common in the region given our rise in the craft beer industry. The option for selling alcohol at events will not be available to just anyone for any event. The stringent requirements involved will weed out most inexperienced event planners and organizations.”

The debate arose when the board brought the issue to the forefront during their public hearing meeting in July. The old ordinance prohibited the consumption of alcohol on town property and in the town right-of-way. The board wanted to see if allowing alcohol consumption and possession on town property could be a viable option in hosting and attracting festivals and larger events in Canton. 

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“The residents who voiced opposition were organized and well spoken. The discourse was civil and demonstrated how good people can disagree yet still be in a community together,” Hendler-Voss explained. “The experience of other municipalities with similar policies shows that there are many positive aspects to this amendment, but at the end of the day it’s a community choice and there’s no escaping the concerns of some people for which alcohol is a very sensitive and personal subject.”

Of those opposed to the measure in August — which included Mayor Mike Ray —  Pastor Chris Willett of the High Street Baptist Church felt that although “it wasn’t the end of the world,” Canton should find better ways to promote family-friendly events.

“It is a shame a lot of people think anything good can come from promoting more alcohol use,” Willett said this week. “They point to the money it can bring in, but there are detrimental effects of alcohol in the community, which far outweigh the money that could be made.”

With the changes in ordinances approved, the board now has the power to vote, on a case-by-case basis, whether to allow alcohol to be served at certain events. 

“At present time, no events that serve alcohol are planned,” Smathers said. “And when we are presented with such an event, safety as well as what type of attention it brings to Canton will be my first priorities.”

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