Cannabis use to be banned at county properties
On March 31, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the “Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act” (MRTA) allowing the sale and use of age-regulated recreational cannabis. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2014.
One of the main advantages cited by proponents was the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana possession; strict drugs laws had filled the state’s prisons. One of the new provisions states that “no fining or determination of reasonable cause to believe a crime has been committed shall be based solely on the evidence” of such facts as the odor of cannabis, the proximity of cash or currency to cannabis and the growing and cultivating of cannabis.
The new law allows anyone 21 and older to possess and transport up to 3 oz. of marijuana and 24 oz. of cannabis concentrate. Individuals will eventually be able to grow up to 12 plants and store up to five pounds of cannabis per household for personal consumption.
Opponents, and especially law enforcement, cite the complexity of determining whether drivers under the influence of marijuana are impaired.
Provision 6 of the MRTA allows municipalities to “opt-out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by Dec. 31, 2021 or nine months after the effective date of the legislation. They cannot opt-out of adult-use legalization.”
Several Nassau County advocacy groups have urged municipalities to opt-out, and applauded legislation by the Nassau County Legislature to ban cannabis smoking at all county-owned properties. The law, originally passed in April, was sponsored by Legislators Howard Kopel, William Gaylor III and Laura Schaefer. It noted that the state Indoor Clean Air Act does not regulate the outdoor smoking or vaping of cannabis products.
It had to be amended at the May 24 full legislature meeting because the penalty for violating the smoking ordinance—$200—was not aligned with state law, whose maximum fine was $25.
The amended law passed unanimously, but not before residents and legislators criticized the low level of the fine.
Rockville Center Coalition for Youth volunteer Elizabeth Boylan said, “I’m disappointed in the penalty,” but praised legislators for “the fact that you have the vision to post all these signs on Nassau County properties, over 6,000 acres of the parks, beaches, golf courses and preserves. I hope this will reduce or eliminate people smoking anything on Nassau County properties. Especially the way secondhand smoke affects our most vulnerable, our children and our elderly.”
Boylan also encouraged legislators to reach out to the three towns and encourage the elected officials to opt-out.
“Let’s make it difficult [for smokers],” she concluded. “We have a beautiful county. We don’t want to be New York City. That smell is not only horrendous, it’s also dangerous to people who have compromised systems.”
Kopel noted that the legislation is aimed at protecting young people, adding, “We can’t do much about adult behaviors, but we can certainly set an example for young people.”
Legislator John Ferretti stated, “The fact that this law has to be amended to reduce the penalty to a $25 fine is a travesty. What kind of message does it send that this body’s hands are tied and we can only fine somebody $25 for violating this? You can find two people next to each other in a county park, one smoking a cigarette, one smoking a marijuana, and both are not permitted. And the one smoking a cigarette is going to get a ticket for $200 and one smoking pot is going to get a ticket for $25.”
He added, “It’s the wrong message to children and as [Kopel] said, as long as we have anything to say about it, we’ll do anything to protect the community. The people up in Albany really need to get on the right page on this.”
The law covers buildings, sidewalks, parking lots, parks, preserves, playgrounds, beaches, campgrounds or any other county-owned open spaces.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is expected to sign the law, and in a statement said, “As a parent, I know we must do everything we can to keep cannabis out of kids’ hands and out of public spaces where minors may be present—including all county parks and facilities. I look forward to signing this legislation as my number one priority is keeping our children safe. We must ensure the county’s public spaces are suitable and safe for all residents.”
In The Towns
The county’s three townships have more legislative control—through zoning—as to the number and placement of medical and recreational dispensaries.
“Prior to Albany’s legalization, our town board passed a law to restrict sales to industrial zones that are at least 1,000 feet away from residential neighborhoods, schools, playgrounds, houses of worship and to keep it away from children,” said Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino. “The town is now reviewing the recent [legalization] by the State Legislature to come up with the safest ways to protect our children and communities.”
North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth said in a statement: “Over the years, our residents have voiced both concern and support regarding various issues related to marijuana. As elected officials, it is our responsibility to listen to the varying perspectives of our constituents and use their input to make a decision that we believe is in the best interest of the town’s residents. In an effort to ensure the town board is able to consider all perspectives, we will be forming an Adult-Use Recreational Marijuana Task Force. The task force will be comprised of residents and experts in various fields such as business, health and public safety. The task force will assist in gathering public input and lend their expertise to developing a recommendation that will be presented to the town board before the state’s opt-out deadline.”
She concluded, “As with all issues brought before us, the Town of North Hempstead will take a measured approach to this decision, giving great care and consideration to the interests of our residents. We look forward to a thoughtful and inclusive process as we move forward.”
Greg Blower, a spokesperson for the Town of Hempstead, said in a statement, “The town board is united in its opposition to the sale of recreational marijuana and also stands firmly against ‘on premises’ consumption of marijuana at facilities within the Town of Hempstead.”