That hissing sound you may have heard here and there across the Five Towns and from Hempstead Town Hall as April began wasn’t the sound of marijuana joints, pipes and bongs being lit, but rather the expressions of opposition from local officials to New York state’s new law decriminalizing what has long been considered by many a “gateway drug” to more addictive narcotics.
The law allows the possession of up to three ounces of cannabis by those 21 and older. Legal recreational pot, the growing market for medical marijuana and what is known as the hemp/cannabis/CBD (cannabidiol) industry are anticipated to be a $4 billion-a-year business boasting 30,000 to 60,000 jobs, according to industry experts.
State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller (R-Atlantic Beach) voted against what is called the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. Miller, a proponent of medical marijuana, said there is a “tremendous difference” between medical-grade cannabis and recreational varieties.
“With the medical-grade product there are many, many safety checks,” said Miller, who pushed the state to approve marijuana for medicinal purposes more than a half-dozen years ago, before she became a legislator. Her son, Oliver, now 21, suffers daily seizures, the result of a pre-birth stroke. The use of a medically prescribed oil form of marijuana with a low concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the compound that gives users a high —reduces the frequency and severity of Oliver’s seizures.
“It is very hard to access, expensive, and there is still inconsistency of product,” Miller said, referring to medical marijuana. “The only good thing is [the new law] expands conditions. Now your doctor decides if you qualify for medical cannabis.” She has “no problem” with the law’s expunging previous petty marijuana charges, but expressed concern about people driving while intoxicated with the drug.
Legal marijuana sales will be taxed. According to the law, there will be a 9 percent state tax and a 4 percent local tax that will generate revenue for counties, cities, towns and villages. Distributors will be taxed 0.5 cents per milligram of THC for cannabis flower, 0.8 cents per milligram for concentrated cannabis and 3 cents per milligram for edibles.
Atlantic Beach Mayor George Pappas said the village was not swayed by the potential impact addition to the municipality’s coffers. “We are not interested in the little amount of tax money,” he said. “We don’t want to have it available to young children. There is no dollar amount that would make me change my mind.”
Four years ago, Atlantic Beach passed a no-smoking ordinance that covers the village’s eight beaches and its private beach clubs. “People are respectful, and go off the beach to the parking lots to smoke,” Pappas said, adding that vaping — the smoking of e-cigarettes — is another issue of concern, especially its popularity among young people. Three other South Shore villages — Freeport, Island Park and Rockville Centre — said they would also prohibit pot sales.
Municipalities can also “opt out” of allowing businesses to sell recreational marijuana, according to the law. The Town of Hempstead also strongly opposed being home to retail outlets. “The town board is united in its opposition to the sale of recreational marijuana,” spokesman Greg Blower said in a statement, “and also stands firmly against ‘on premises’ consumption of marijuana at facilities within the Town of Hempstead.”
In 2019, when the state was considering a similar recreational marijuana law, the town passed two laws of its own. One was a year-long moratorium (since expired) on the sale of recreational marijuana in the town’s unincorporated areas — villages may pass their own laws — and the other banned smoking or having cannabis in the open at town parks, beaches and government facilities.
David Friedman, president of the Hewlett-Woodmere Business Association, which aims to attract new business to those Town of Hempstead hamlets, said the group would discuss its position on the new law at its meeting this week. “People are worried about kids under 21 having access to marijuana and [then] driving under the influence,” said Friedman, who added that the HWBA supports anti-vaping laws and the enforcement of the statewide ban on flavored nicotine for vaping.
Adults will be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants, split evenly between mature and immature plants, or a dozen for a household with more than one adult. The state still must establish specific regulations for home growing.
Increased exposure to the now-legal drug is a concern for Lawrence School District Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen. “We have a very strong social emotional learning program, and one of the core competencies is responsible decision-making, and this brings to mind teaching those types of skills,” Pedersen said. “With the changes in the law, it may increase exposure [to drugs] so we really have to, from early on, teach responsible decision-making.”
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