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Should municipalities opt out on marijuana?


Gov. Andrew Cuomo, once an ardent detractor of any measure to legalize recreational marijuana, last week signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, making the sale of all forms of cannabis in the state legal. New York joins 15 other states and Washington, D.C., in allowing use of the drug.

We’re not here to debate the merits of the law. Legalizing recreational marijuana, the governor projects, will bring in around $350 million in what we acknowledge is much-needed tax revenue each year and create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs.

Immediately after Cuomo signed the legislation into law, the mayors of four South Shore villages — Atlantic Beach, Freeport, Island Park and Rockville Centre — announced that they would opt out of the law and ban marijuana sales, as villages, towns and cities are allowed to do.

Atlantic Beach Mayor George Pappas told the New York Post that he would aggressively enforce no-smoking ordinances on the beach to ensure that people aren’t getting high there. “It’s a moral imperative to opt out,” Island Park Mayor Michael McGinty said. “I’m not going to permit marijuana here. It’s that simple.”

But is it really that simple? Shouldn’t the mayors have left it up to the people in their municipalities to decide whether they would forgo marijuana sales taxes from legal shops? Shouldn’t they have put a ballot measure to a public vote?

Frankly, we would have preferred to see a statewide vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana in order to gauge the will of the people — that is, whether a majority of New Yorkers were willing to accept the inherent risks involved with full cannabis legalization, including potentially higher rates of use by children and teens (studies are mixed), in favor of the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that legalizing recreational cannabis is likely to bring in.

Our elected leaders, however, made the decision for us, based in large part, it appears, on the economics of legalization.

Now that marijuana is legal, does it make sense for any municipality to opt out without first checking with the local citizenry? If Rockville Centre users can’t get marijuana in town, they’ll simply drive to Baldwin or Lynbrook, potentially toking up along the way. Meanwhile, the village will lose out on the commerce generated by local cannabis shops.

Other local municipalities would do well to carefully consider how to proceed on legal marijuana before arbitrarily banning it.