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A joint effort on marijuana

Bipartisan bills seek restrictions on pot sales, use

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As state lawmakers continue to debate the expected legalization of recreational marijuana, Town of Hempstead leaders announced a bipartisan pair of bills on Feb. 1 that would restrict the use and sale of pot.

One of the bills would impose a one-year moratorium on the sale of recreational marijuana within the town’s unincorporated areas — villages may pass their own laws — and the other would ban smoking or having cannabis out in the open at town parks, beaches and government facilities.

A vote on the bills is scheduled for Feb. 26. “The town needs to be ready just in case adult recreational marijuana becomes legal,” Democratic Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said.

Republican Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney said she supported both measures. “I think this is a really prudent way forward,” she said.

Dairen Ward, president of the Baldwin Civic Association, said he was pleased to learn of the ban on marijuana smoking in parks. “We ban smoking generally in the parks, he said, “so it makes sense they would do it for marijuana, too. We just got over the annoyance of cigarette smoke.”

Asked about the moratorium, Ward expressed concern that the town could lose out on tax revenue from sales.

Erik Mahler, president of the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, said there needs to be more research on the topic before a final decision is made, “because never in the history of the Town of Hempstead has marijuana been legal.”

In late December, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would back the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana, a move that is expected to pass the State Assembly and Senate, both of which are controlled by Democrats. New York would become the 11th state to allow adults to smoke marijuana for recreational purposes. (The consumption of medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2014.)

The move has sparked reaction from a number of municipalities. Last month, the Town of North Hempstead passed a law banning the sale of recreational pot, and on Jan. 31, three Suffolk County legislators announced a similar proposal.

No state legislation legalizing recreational marijuana has been proposed, and the lack of details on the matter has left many municipalities in limbo, according to Gillen. For example, she said, it is unclear how marijuana retailers would be treated under federal law, which prohibits the distribution of the substance.

“You could be committing a crime,” she said of retailers. “There really is a tug of war going on here, and that’s why these issues need to be hashed out before we, as a township, take action one way or another.” In Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, federal law enforcement agents have raided several dispensaries and charged them with crimes.

The moratorium, Gillen said, would allow the town to study how any potential state law could affect such businesses. Additionally, the state legislation might allow counties to opt in or out of the sale of recreational marijuana, which would eliminate the need for a ban at the town level if Nassau opted out. “We need to let the state and county processes take their place,” Gillen said.

A county task force formed by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Baldwin Democrat, will address those issues, and more. The task force will host a listening session, at which people can make suggestions on how to approach legal marijuana, at Hempstead Town Hall on March 5 at 7 p.m.

Gillen encouraged supporters and opponents of legal recreational marijuana to attend the hearing. “There are strong and passionate voices on both sides of this issue,” she said, “and rightfully so, because it’s complex and multifaceted.”