The Town of North Hempstead established a cannabis task force after a handful of local villages moved to ban marijuana retail sales and consumption sites over the past few months.
The task force will be made up of residents and various public safety, business and health experts, town officials said. Town Clerk Wayne Wink, a Democrat who is running for town supervisor in the upcoming November election, will serve as the task force’s moderator.
The rest of the panel consists of Deborah Abramson-Brooks, Sue Auriemma, Maria Elisa Cuadra, Leslie Davis, Dr. Betty Hylton, Jordan Isenstadt, Nikki Kateman, Jack Kott, Jeffrey Reynolds, Michael Sahn, Gloria Su, Marianna Wohlgemuth and Desiree Woodson.
Wink said he looks forward to working with the committee on weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the legislation and hearing from town residents for their opinions.
“All community members will have ample opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions,” Wink said in a statement. “It will be incumbent upon the committee to weigh all of their concerns and ultimately make a prudent recommendation to the town board.”
Under a new state law, consumption and smoking of cannabis is legal throughout the state wherever smoking tobacco is legal, though the Nassau County Legislature recently banned cannabis smoking and vaping on all county-owned property. Municipalities can opt out of allowing retail sale of cannabis by Dec. 31, but they will not get to share in any generated local tax revenue.
As of Thursday, the Villages of New Hyde Park, Floral Park, Flower Hill, Williston Park and Great Neck Estates had opted out of the state legislation.
The town committee will provide insights on whether or not to do the same as well as gather input from the public over various sessions. The committee will also focus on issues ranging from zoning to quality-of-life concerns.
Current Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth touted the importance of listening to public input on issues such as this and said the task force and other residents will help the town make the decision that is most beneficial for everyone involved.
“As with all issues brought before us, North Hempstead will take a measured approach to this decision, giving great care and consideration to all aspects,” Bosworth said in a statement. “We look forward to a thoughtful and inclusive process as we move forward.”
Kateman, the political and communications director for Local 338 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, representing workers in the cannabis industry, previously pointed out a downside of opting out at a Village of Flower Hill meeting earlier in August.
“People are going to be purchasing cannabis products, but they’re going to be doing that in other jurisdictions who will then be collecting that tax revenue,” Kateman said. “Opt-out means in a lot of ways opting out of revenue.”
However, residents could stop a town from opting out by petitioning the outcome of the governing board’s vote, which would put the measure up for a public vote in an election.
In the face of what Kateman said is the start of what could be a trend of localities electing to not permit retail cannabis sales, she directed attention to another argument.
“We’re also not talking about the added income economic impact of people who have good quality union jobs and what those wages allow them to do,” Kateman said. “That includes shopping locally, living locally, going to restaurants locally. There’s more to this than just, ‘Oh, this is a  % tax revenue.'”