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Oceanside, Island Park officials, residents react to marijuana legalization

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Many elected officials and community members offered varying opinions after New York state legalized recreational marijuana use last week.

Austin Verdejo, an Oceanside resident and senior at Molloy College, said he was “stoked” about the measure.

“Along with its recreational and medicinal benefits, it’ll also help the state economy,” he said, “and hopefully set a precedent to expunge those convicted of petty marijuana-related charges.”

Jojo Finfer, a Rockville Centre resident who lives in the Oceanside School District, offered a similar sentiment. “I think any kind of opt-out is a poor choice when it comes to accepting cannabis legalization in New York state,” she said.” Long Island is in a financial strain, so opting in to retail cannabis sales allows for the ability to have free money to improve the area.”

Island Park resident Chris Fabris said he had some skepticism about the legislation. “Until they have a quick way of testing someone driving under the influence, what’s the point?” he asked.

The 128-page Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act addresses everything fom enforcement and criminal justice reform to how taxes would be levied against marijuana producers and retailers and how the dollars would be spent. Towns and villages will have the choice of whether to permit marijuana sales.

Island Park Mayor Michael McGinty has been vehemently against the legalization of marijuana for many years, and said he would continue to not allow the sale of it in the village.

“I will not permit marijuana here, it’s that simple,” he said. “There have been drug overdoses in recent years and I consider marijuana a gateway drug,”

McGinty added that there are ways aside from marijuana sales to reinvigorate the village, and noted that many of them are already in the works, including transit oriented development and business growth. He said he hoped the village board would join him in voting to opt out of selling marijuana in Island Park.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said safety precautions were key in passing the measure. “It was very important to us to make sure that the bill had driving safety protections in it,” he said. “We worked very hard to make sure they were in the bill and allowed villages and towns the option to opt out if their constituents don’t want dispensaries in their communities.”

Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, a Democrat from Rockville Centre, also said that safety was important, but noted that she didn’t believe the measure did enough to protect the community.

“First and foremost, this legislation does not go far enough to address the issue of driving under the influence of marijuana,” she said. “Generations of people , including my four children, have graduated from high school and college without ever learning about the dangers of driving under the influence.”

Griffin added that she was concerned that the measure doesn’t regulate the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and there is no breathalyzer to determine if someone is driving under the influence yet. Additionally, she said, many parents, teachers and PTA leaders have expressed their opposition, saying that they feared for long-term effects on children’s academic, social and behavioral outcomes.

Among the major provisions in the legislation is the creation of a new agency to regulate marijuana sales. The Office of Cannabis Management and its five-person governing board would be the chief entity responsible for regulating the state’s nascent marijuana industry, setting the number of sale and use permits allowed per region, as well recommend regulations, among many other responsibilities.

Upon its passage into law, the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act automatically expunged arrest records statewide for low-level marijuana offenses.

Forty percent of tax dollars generated from the industry will go to a fund for social equity, which would create  several support service programs such as workforce development and programs for families who have been hurt by drug enforcement laws

According to the bill, the Office of Cannabis Management governing board would be charged with appointing a chief equity officer, who would be responsible for developing education plans targeted at the communities most harmed by drug laws on how to obtain the licenses and permits needed to gain entry to the cannabis industry.

Additionally, the social equity fund would provide for low-cost loans and incubator programs to ease access into the business.

Tax dollars from cannabis sales will also be put toward law enforcement and education programs to ensure underage children do not have access to marijuana.

Local governments would be eligible for 4 percent of cannabis tax revenue, and while counties would be barred from opting out of marijuana sale and use in their jurisdictions, towns and villages could.