Lafazan introduces marijuana opt-out bill

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Lafazan introduces marijuana opt-out bill
Nassa County Executive Laura Curran and members of the county's marijuana task force announced its recommendation for the county to opt-out of the sale of marijuana at a press conference Monday. (Photo by Karen Rubin)

Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan filed a bill for the county to opt out of the sale of marijuana Monday, the same day that the marijuana task force he jointly led with Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder recommended such a measure.

County Executive Laura Curran announced her support for an opt-out last week in her “State of the County” address.

Lafazan’s bill calls for the prohibition of the growth, sale and marketing of recreational marijuana. It would also outlaw public consumption of the drug for recreational use.

It cites threats mentioned in the new report, including those to public health and safety and financial costs associated with them.

“Our task force came to one important conclusion: at the height of a public health crisis, in which more than 160,000 Americans are losing their lives annually to drug and alcohol use, now is not the time for Nassau County to allow for legalized cultivation, sale, distribution or marketing of recreational cannabis products,” Lafazan, who does not have a party affiliation, said in a news release.

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said the county will definitely opt out, even though the state will likely not pass marijuana legalization measures with the state budget, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo speculated last week.

“We will be taking up an opt-out bill in April,” Nicolello said. “Without any sort of legislation that allows us to opt out at this point, it’s sort of just a general statement that we’d like to opt out so we’d like to make it clear to the powers that be that we are strongly for opting out.”

The primary safety threats that the task force’s report mentions are robberies and burglaries and vehicle accidents.

The report cites the Denver Police Department, which analyzed crime in relation to cannabis and found that while at first it increased, it then stabilized. Fifty-nine percent of those crimes in 2017 were burglaries.

Fatal traffic accidents in which drivers tested positive for marijuana increased by 153 percent after legalization, the county report says, citing a 2018 report produced by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice. While police measure blood-alcohol content to evaluate driver impairment associated with alcohol consumption, there is no similar strategy for marijuana, the report says.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a legalized adult-use marijuana program in his state budget proposal. In it, he provides counties and cities with populations of at least 100,000 the opportunity to opt out of marijuana sales.

The budget also makes it illegal to burn cannabis in a public place.

Early last week, Cuomo said he is not confident that the marijuana program will make it into the budget because state lawmakers need more time with it.

“The rate of progress does not suggest it’s going to happen,” he said.

The state released its own assessment of the impact of regulated marijuana last July, which concluded that the pros of legalization outweigh the cons when it comes to health, safety, criminal justice and economic benefits.

The county’s task force included seven subcommittees: public health, treatment and recovery, taxation and finance, education, small business impact, community impact and legislation and regulation. Each crafted its own report that is included at the end of the overall report.

In addition to health risks, the county’s report speculates on financial challenges the county might face if it introduces the sale of marijuana, including the need for new police officer certifications and new police dogs that are trained to detect marijuana.

It does not speculate on potential tax revenue, beyond outlining the tax program included in Cuomo’s proposed budget.

The Taxation and Finance Subcommittee report, however, says that there would be “little, if any, net tangible economic or other benefit.”

“It is clear that the amount of revenue that the county would get does not approach what the costs would be: the increased law enforcement costs,” Nicolello said.

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