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Lynbrook, East Rockaway residents react to marijuana legalization

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The legalization of marijuana in New York state was met last week with mixed reactions from community members and elected officials.

East Rockaway resident Joe Mullins said he was among the opponents of the measure. “I know firsthand that it is a gateway drug to a more serious life of addiction,” he said. “As a full-time member of a 12-step fellowship called Narcotics Anonymous, I have seen firsthand, on so many occasions, evidence of [that]. And to legalize it just for the fact that it will generate a new source of income for the state via the additional taxes to be collected is just outrageous behavior on the part of our elected leaders.”

Ned Bal, also of East Rockaway, said that those who use marijuana already did so when it was illegal, and he believed that prices would now increase because the government would tax it.

“The actual use of marijuana isn’t going to change as a result of this law,” Bal said. “It only has bureaucratic implications.”

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

East Rockaway Mayor Bruno Romano said he and the board have yet to discuss whether they will opt in or out to the measure, while Lynbrook Mayor Alan Beach and the village board voted to opt out at Monday’s board meeting.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said safety precautions were key to 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 did not 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 does not regulate the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and that there is no breathalyzer to determine if someone is driving under the influence. Additionally, she said, many parents, teachers and PTA leaders have expressed their opposition, noting that they feared potential long-term effects on their children’s academic, social and behavioral outcomes if they use marijuana recreationally.

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 marijuana industry, setting the number of sale and use permits allowed per region, as well recommending 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 would go to a fund for social equity, which would aid several support service programs, such as workforce development and programs for families who have been hurt by drug enforcement laws.

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 and police are better able to enforce DUI laws.

Local governments that opt in 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, with a provision that residents could hold a referendum to override village and town officials’ decision.