RIVERHEAD, NY — After Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill in March legalizing recreational marijuana in New York State, local municipalities are weighing whether or not to opt-out of the legislation.
Riverhead officials are seeking public input regarding the marijuana legislation: Each town can decide to allow the sale of marijuana at specific locations and provide restrictions and setbacks at use locations such as cafes and lounges — or elect to opt-out of the legislation altogether.
Opting out will indicate Riverhead does not want marijuana sold at retail businesses or consumed in cafes or lounges, officials said.
To participate in the survey, click here; the short, two-minute survey will be active through Sunday, May 2, town officials said.
“It is critical we engage stakeholders of our community and receive their input,” Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said.
The survey does not apply to any aspect of medical marijuana, she said.
In March Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act — a bill passed by state lawmakers that allows people 21 and over to use weed legally. The measure is slated to bring in $350 million in tax collection to the state’s coffers annually and potentially create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs, Cuomo said.
“This is a historic day in New York — one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits,” Cuomo said.
Not all lawmakers voted yes. New York State Senator Anthony Palumbo, a Republican representing the 1st District, voted no, citing his concerns on the potential impact on roadway safety, the effects on young children, the demand on addiction services and quality of life.
“The negative consequences of legalizing recreational marijuana far outweigh any revenue gain for the state. This bill will have an adverse impact on the health of our communities, diminish our quality of life here on the East End of Long Island and will make our roads and highways more dangerous,” Palumbo said. “Just like the disastrous bail and discovery laws, this legislation was crafted without input from New York’s district attorneys’ offices and law enforcement. As a result, I fear our communities will be affected by the unintended consequences of this bill for years to come.”
Palumbo said his main opposition to the legislation related to law enforcement’s ability to keep streets and highways safe under the new legislation. Currently, he said there are only 343 drug recognition experts throughout the entirety of New York State; the specially trained officers are the only way to determine if a driver is impaired due to cannabis.
“THC can be ingested in several different forms, some being very difficult for law enforcement to detect,” Palumbo said. “I am very concerned that people driving under the influence of marijuana could seriously injure or kill innocent drivers and escape penalties if we don’t have enough trained drug recognition experts on our local police forces. Yet unsurprisingly, there was no funding provided in this legislation for these officers or additional training.”
Others lauded the news.
“Today, New York stepped up and took transformative action to end the prohibition of adult-use marijuana,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “This legislation is a momentous first step in addressing the racial disparities caused by the war on drugs that has plagued our state for too long.”
Assemb. Jodi Giglio, a Republican representing the 2nd District on Long Island, expressed some concerns.
“The devil is in the details,” she said. Giglio said the drug recognition experts would need to be trained to identify use of marijuana while driving. “That will increase taxes yet again,” Giglio said.
Giglio said currently, there are 11 DREs for 2,500 square miles in Suffolk County to detect if people are driving under the influence of drugs.
Giglio said she was also concerned about the proximity of retail dispensaries near churches and schools, and was worried about “potential damage” to the younger generation; and seeing bucolic farm vistas converted to growing and distribution facilities where greenhouses would be built, with security fences, guards and bright lighting needing to be installed.
Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, issued a statement in favor of the legislation: “It should be common knowledge by now that the ‘War on Drugs’ has always really been a racist war on communities of color and other marginalized individuals. For decades, marijuana has been disproportionately used to criminalize Black and Brown folks on Long Island not for the sake of public safety but to feed the profit-seeking prison industrial complex. Finally, in New York, an end is in sight. This new marijuana reform proposal, which is the culmination of years of organizing and advocacy, could put our state on a path toward repairing some of the damage done by misguided prohibition policies.”
Local cities, towns, and villages are able to opt-out of allowing the recreational use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by Dec. 31 or nine months after the effective date of the legislation. They cannot opt out of adult-use legalization.
On the issue of traffic safety, Cuomo said the New York State Department of Health will work with institutions of higher education to conduct a controlled research study designed to evaluate methodologies and technologies for the detection of cannabis-impaired driving.