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Let’s slow down and get legal marijuana right


While state leaders have been slow to provide specifics or act on the likely legalization of recreational marijuana, officials in the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County are addressing the matter promptly and properly.

On Feb. 26, the Hempstead Town Board is expected to authorize a one-year moratorium on the sale of recreational marijuana within the town’s unincorporated areas — villages may pass their own laws. A separate measure would prohibit smoking or having cannabis in the open at town parks, beaches or government facilities.

These two bills, supported by Democrats and Republicans alike, are sound moves. The moratorium would allow the town to study the complexities of allowing marijuana dispensaries in New York, particularly given that the federal government continues to designate cannabis as an illegal drug.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, a Democrat, described the difference in state and federal law as a “tug of war” that needs to be hashed out before any action is taken. She’s right. The moratorium will allow the town to figure out where dispensaries could exist without being near schools, day care centers or houses of worship. Society has frowned on children being exposed to tobacco and e-cigarettes, and the same should go for marijuana.

The ban on smoking or displaying cannabis in public places is a common-sense measure. For years, cigarette smoking has been prohibited at schools, restaurants, bars, parks and beaches, and similar laws have been passed in recent years for e-cigarette use. Public places are for everyone to enjoy, and nobody should be exposed to smoke or the odor of marijuana in such common spaces.

At the county level, a task force formed by County Executive Laura Curran is gathering insight from proponents and opponents of legalization. A listening session, at which people will be able to offer suggestions on how Nassau should approach legalizing marijuana, will be held at Hempstead Town Hall on March 5 at 7 p.m. We encourage everyone, regardless of their opinions, to attend and make their voices heard.

The task force comprises several subcommittees, including education, law enforcement, legislation and criminal justice. Each subcommittee will approach marijuana differently — for example, criminal justice will examine how cannabis should be treated in the courts if it becomes legal in New York.

Curran deserves praise for assembling such a diverse group of experts, and for putting impassioned County Legislator Josh Lafazan and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder in charge of it. Both have shown that they are willing to listen to both sides, and are eager to determine what is best for the county.

Lafazan told the Herald that the task force should publish a report by March 15 and detail its conclusions — including, possibly, whether the county should opt in or out of allowing the sale of cannabis within its borders.

The opt in/opt out clause is a rumored aspect of a potential state bill legalizing marijuana — rumored because no such bill has been drawn up yet.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, reportedly wants to pass legal marijuana as part of the state budget, which must be authorized by April 1, but several state lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx, have called for it to be voted on separately from the budget.

We agree with Heastie. For better or worse, legal marijuana would change life in New York in myriad ways, and it should not be lumped in with the budget. It deserves its own debate and vote, even if that means waiting longer to give the final OK.

We appreciate that Cuomo would prohibit the sale of marijuana to anyone under 21. Proponents of legalization say that it is less dangerous than alcohol — and they’re probably right — but there are still concerns on how it affects developing minds. According to the American Psychological Association, heavy marijuana use in adolescence has been linked to poor school performance, higher dropout rates, increased welfare dependence and lower life satisfaction.

Cuomo’s push to legalize marijuana feels rushed. After all, he was silent on the issue until recent months, and announced his support for it only after Democrats won control of the State Senate, giving the party free reign over the Legislature.

We encourage him to slow down and listen to what all parties have to say.

Waiting until June, the end of the legislative session, would provide time for questions to be answered and all voices to be heard.