Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said she does not see many communities expressing their support for recreational marijuana, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Dec. 17 he would seek to legalize and tax this year. “I might be wrong,” Curran, a Baldwin Democrat, said. “It would be interesting to see who might embrace this.”
In a social media poll, a number of Freeport residents did, in fact, embrace legalization. The poll, taken after Cuomo’s announcement, sparked much discussion, with most residents in favor of allowing recreational marijuana use.
“I am in favor of legalizing it, both for medical and recreational use,” Steven Latus said on Facebook. “I want murderers and rapists in jail, not marijuana users.”
Freeporters Jonathan Wright and Joseph Smith posted marijuana should be regulated. “Revenue collected should assist in keeping taxes at bay,” Smith said on Facebook.
“If it is legalized, it can be taxed,” Wright added. “Alcohol is a drug that has been legal for generations. Marijuana is no different, except getting past the political dinosaurs that will stop at nothing to see it fail, but will certainly have a drink of alcohol to celebrate it.”
Others Freeporters opposed the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, but favored medicinal use of the drug.
“Medical use has its place,” posted Marilyn Leutritz, a registered nurse from Freeport. “Recreational use is just stupidity. I have read [about] and have seen both the benefits and detrimental effects of marijuana.”
Ronnie Baylis said he didn’t like the smell of marijuana, because it gives him a headache. “If legalized, it will be worse than it is now,” Baylis said in a Facebook post. “So, as one who can’t stand it, I lose my rights and will be forced to be around it all the time.”
Would roads go to pot?
Rosemary Quint Wonderlin, like other residents, expressed public-safety concerns. “My biggest fear is more auto accidents,” she posted.
“Seen too many [people] stoned on pot,” Joan Hendershot Miller posted. “Would prefer they weren’t driving.”
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Beach Democrat, said he, too, was concerned about people driving while high on marijuana and was organizing a roundtable discussion, “Safe Roads in the Age of Legalization,” at Molloy College on Jan. 7 at 11 a.m.
The discussion will feature traffic safety and law enforcement officials from areas where recreational marijuana is legal —it’s allowed in nine states — and their experiences with preventing potentially dangerous drivers from getting behind the wheel. “Important issues have yet to be discussed, yet alone fleshed out,” Kaminsky said.
Skeptics and opponents of Cuomo’s plan have pointed to a rise in traffic accidents and fatalities in Denver since 2013, the year after recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado, as cause for concern. According to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a collaboration of drug enforcement agencies, the percentage of fatal crashes in which drivers had marijuana in their systems jumped from 10 percent in 2009 to 19.26 percent in 2014. One in four drivers tested after a traffic death was positive for marijuana, according to the report.
The Denver Police Department stated that the number of cases of people driving under the influence of marijuana jumped from 33 in 2013 to 66 the following year. Curran said this is one of the reasons why she would fight to ensure tax revenue earned from legal marijuana sales goes to the Nassau County Police Department to help ensure that roads are safe.
“We’re going to have an increased public safety problem,” Curran said. “I want to make sure the county gets its fair share of revenue to be able to cope with any issues arising from this.”
Detective Vincent Garcia, an NCPD spokesman, said the department shares similar concerns. A comment from Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder was not provided by deadline. Kaminsky said he hopes to hear at the roundtable if a roadside test to check drivers for marijuana is close to being a reality. (No such test now exists.)
Whereas the North Hempstead Town Board has passed laws prohibiting marijuana dispensaries within a thousand feet of schools and 500 feet of residential districts, Hempstead has not taken up a measure and has had little discussion on the matter, Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney said. “We’re behind the eight ball,” King Sweeney, a Republican from Wantagh, said. “We simply need to do more research and get up to speed on the issue.”
Curran said, outside of North Hempstead, she had not heard much discussion about where dispensaries would be zoned. North Hempstead’s board also capped the number of dispensaries allowed in its jurisdiction to two. King Sweeney said she has asked her staff to start exploring how the Hempstead Town Board should draw zoning boundaries for such sites.
Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, a Rockville Centre Democrat, said a paramount concern of hers would be to keep dispensaries as far away as possible from schools, day care centers and places of worship. “We don’t want to facilitate the introduction of marijuana to young children and schoolchildren,” Gillen said. “This is something that we, as a board, will work together nicely on to try to address a potential legalization of recreational marijuana.”
Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy also said he and the village board of trustees would have to review to work together to address the legalization of recreational marijuana and how it would affect the village.
Officials from South Nassau Communities Hospital in September said that while marijuana is not a deadly drug, there are certain health concerns. Dr. Adhi Sharma, SNCH’s chief medical officer, said at the time that there is a 1 in 10 chance that an adult could become psychologically addicted to marijuana. “In a perfect society, we would not have the need for mind-altering substance use,” he said, later noting, “It’s part of the culture. Just like in our society, where alcohol has been part of the culture, used for its intoxicating effects.”
Sharma dismissed the notion that marijuana is a gateway drug, saying that in states where medical marijuana use has been legalized, there has been a 14 percent reduction in opioids prescribed for pain relief, resulting in 3.9 million fewer opioid pills taken per day.
He also said that in the Netherlands — where recreational marijuana use has been legal for 40 years — there is no statistical evidence showing that adole scents who use it moved on to other drugs, “Their experience does not suggest it’s a gateway drug,” he said.
The American Psychological Association, however, has said continued marijuana use can lead to poor school performance and higher dropout rates. Curran would like to see increased education on marijuana’s impact on developing brains.
The NCPD’s arrests for marijuana possession have increased steadily in recent years. Some, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, have called for prior arrests and convictions to be expunged from people’s records. Nassau’s district attorney, Madeline Singas, did not return a request for comment by deadline on whether she would do the same.
Curran said she would not support such a move. “I think you have to follow the law as it was written at the time,” she said. Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor who has tried drug dealers, said for him it would depend on the crime. “Are we talking about major traffickers or somebody who had a small amount in a park?” he said.
Kaminsky said he believes that a bill legalizing recreational marijuana will pass in April, when the state budget is approved, but that he would not like to see it take effect until 2020.