North Hempstead bans recreational marijuana sales

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Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth and the town council voted unanimously to ban recreational marijuana sales in the town on Tuesday night. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)
Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth and the town council voted unanimously to ban recreational marijuana sales in the town on Tuesday night. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

North Hempstead Town council members voted unanimously to bar the sale of recreational marijuana at a board meeting on Tuesday night, ahead of the state likely deciding to legalize the drug.

New York’s Association of Towns does not know of any other towns that have yet done so, said the association’s counsel, Lori Mithen-DeMasi.

Town officials described the move as one that’s responsive to legitimate concerns from the community, as well as a way to send a message to Albany to not rush to legalize recreational marijuana.

“I think you could hear from the comments of all the members of this board that we understand very well the responsibility of the board, the responsibility to advocate for what’s important to our constituents and to represent all your interests and values,” Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said.

“Protecting your children – your children are our children, so we take that very, very seriously, and it’s always something we strive to do,” Bosworth added. “And with that I vote aye.”

Town Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio said the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana are “important subjects to be discussed,” especially since lives have been ruined by mere possession.

But, De Giorgio cautioned, marijuana and cannabis are “a big business” and elected officials need to guard against companies “that want to profit from the sale of an intoxicant that” she views as “not safe.”

“I also hope that other towns and municipalities in the state follow our lead and they send a message to Albany that we want them to do this right,” De Giorgio, who represents Port Washington and the Plandomes, said. “We have an opportunity to lead by example in New York, and we should.”

The passage of the recreational marijuana sale ban is the third in a trio of laws which aimed to regulate medicinal marijuana in the town. Previous legislation capped the number of dispensaries allowed at two, limited them to select districts, and barred medical marijuana facilities from converting to retail operations.

Protests over plans by MedMen, a medical marijuana dispensary company, to move from its Lake Success location to Northern Boulevard in Manhasset preceded the town introducing the laws.

Most residents who spoke at the meeting, ranging from a Manhasset High School student to civic leaders, voiced support for the Town Board’s decision.

Among their concerns were the easier accessibility of recreational marijuana for young people, how it could lead to other drugs, increased accidents, an inability for police to detect it like alcohol, and health effects on children’s development.

“Everywhere we look there’s another temptation for our kids,” said Umberto Mignardi, a member of the Williston Park Civic Association, adding that marijuana is not a “political issue” but “a quality of life issue.”

Ed Rutkowski, a member of the Albertson Civic Association, said he has no issues with the decriminalization of marijuana, but that there is “no reason to encourage open use” of recreational marijuana.

Jack Regal, a member of Manhasset High School’s Student Athlete Leadership Team, said drug use is a “major problem” and that the town’s law will help curtail marijuana use.

“There are a number of students, including myself, who do not want to live in a community where their peers and their friends are all changing … because of marijuana use,” Regal said.

Doretta Goldberg, a Port Washington resident, said the town has “only paid lip service” to medical marijuana, capitulated to a vocal minority of people, and officials honed in on the “imagined impact of a dispensary on our community.”

Additionally, she said, experts predict a merging of the recreational and medicinal marijuana markets – and suggested the town’s law could lead to a chilling effect.

“The point is if you outlaw so-called recreational shops, you may severely restrict the availability of medical marijuana as well,” Goldberg said. “This is a complicated issue; it merits a very well-publicized and thorough discussion.”

The next Town Board meeting will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 7 p.m.

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