Island Park village board seeks stricter marijuana laws

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In an effort to strengthen its laws against the sale of marijuana in the village, Island Park officials scheduled a public hearing for Thursday, at which Mayor Michael McGinty said he expected the board to vote in favor of stricter regulations.

“For me it’s simple: I’m completely opposed,” McGinty said of the prospect of the sale of recreational marijuana in the village. “I don’t want any stores, any retailers, any wholesalers — I don’t want anybody selling marijuana in this village. That’s it. I believe marijuana to be a gateway drug, and I believe the research supports that.”

The public hearing was scheduled for 6:45 p.m. on Thursday at Village Hall, after the Herald went to press. It was to start 15 minutes before the regular board meeting, and McGinty said he expected the board to approve tighter laws, joking that if he didn’t push for stricter regulations, his fellow board members would “run me out of the village on a rail.”

Deputy Mayor Joseph Annarella declined to comment on the public hearing, while Trustee Irene Naudus deferred to McGinty. Trustees Barbara Volpe-Ried and Michael Gagliardi did not return calls requesting comment.

In late December, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would back the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana, a move that is expected to meet with the approval of 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 recreationally. The consumption of medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2014.

The Island Park public hearing comes just weeks after Town of Hempstead officials announced a pair of bipartisan bills on Feb. 1 that would restrict the use and sale of pot regardless of whether state lawmakers vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen and town officials were expected to further discuss the bills on Feb. 26. One of the laws would impose a one-year moratorium on the sale of recreational marijuana within the town’s unincorporated areas, such as Oceanside, and the other would ban smoking or having cannabis out in the open at town parks, beaches and government facilities. Because Island Park is an incorporated village, the mayor and village board have the power to make their own laws.

The notice for the public hearing in Island Park stated that the board sought to amend the zoning ordinates to include regulations that would end the possibility of selling marijuana in the village, even if state lawmakers approve it. The hearing will also provide a chance for the public to comment.

At the Feb. 1 meeting of town officials, Gillen explained the urgency behind drafting the bills. “The town needs to be ready just in case adult recreational marijuana becomes legal,” she said.

Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney echoed those sentiments. “I think this is a really prudent way forward,” she said.

McGinty said that the public hearing and subsequent vote was a way to “stay ahead of the curve.”

“I don’t want to be behind the 8-ball,” he said. “I don’t want to find a retail store popping up, a pop-up store or boutique. I don’t want any of that. I want to get ahead of it.”

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. 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 and cities 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.

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

McGinty said that despite the creation of potential tax revenue, he didn’t see any benefits to permitting the sale of marijuana in the village, which he said has lost too many residents to drug overdoses over the years. Legalizing the sale of what he termed a gateway drug, he said, would only exacerbate that issue.

“I think I have a responsibility,” McGinty said. “In the historical context, I want to get done with it and stop it, and stop it before any possibility of it happening. The whole drug situation is a scourge. We have to do what we can to combat it.”

Anthony O’Reilly contributed to this story.