Town of North Hempstead opts out of retail cannabis sales

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Town of North Hempstead opts out of retail cannabis sales
The Town of North Hempstead opted out of state legislation that would have permitted retail cannabis sales throughout the town during a Thursday night meeting. (Photo by Robert Pelaez)

The Town of North Hempstead opted out of permitting retail sales of cannabis in the unincorporated areas of the town during a public meeting Thursday night.

Following the lead of other towns across Long Island, North Hempstead council members voted 6-0, with Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte not present at the virtual meeting due to COVID-19. The decision came after several meetings conducted by the town’s cannabis task force, which ultimately provided the board with recommendations but did not come to a consensus on whether to opt out.

A majority of the members of the public who spoke during Thursday night’s meeting were opposed to permitting retail sales of cannabis, including Supervisor-elect Jennifer DeSena.

“As we try to emerge from the pandemic, the increase of overdoses from drugs and depression and suicide and the mental health crisis we’re in, I urge you to protect the character and safety of our community and opt out,” DeSena said.

Under a state law passed in March, consumption and smoking of cannabis is legal throughout the state wherever smoking tobacco is legal, though the Nassau County Legislature 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.

Members of the public also noted that the town has the ability to opt in at a later date and expressed a desire to “wait and see” how the situation plays out in municipalities throughout the state that have permitted retail sales of cannabis. Residents also expressed concerns surrounding “unclear guidelines” from the state as a reason to opt out now.

Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey said the process of deciding whether the town should opt out of the legislation was not an easy one and required an in-depth analysis of how a myriad of town entities and its residents would be impacted.

The pros to opting in, she said, included an influx of new jobs and revenue for the town. The biggest con to opting in, she said, would be the lack of specific rules and regulations from the state in terms of how this would impact the town on a broader scale.

“The issue, as I see it, is whether there is space for fair, safe and profitable legal cannabis marketplace in the unincorporated areas throughout the Town of North Hempstead,” Lurvey said. “I will be voting to opt out. However, I call upon the Town Board to reconsider this issue when the state-level rules and regulations have been released.”

Councilwoman Viviana Russell touted the importance of the town being cautious and waiting for further state regulations and guidance as a reason to opt out, agreeing with Lurvey that the decision would allow the board to opt in at a later date if it wishes.

“It is already legal to have cannabis in the state of New York, but with regards to whether we opt in or out, there’s just not enough information for us to make an informed decision to opt in,” Russell said.

Villages on the North Shore that have opted out include Mineola, Great Neck, New Hyde Park, Russell Gardens, Floral Park, Flower Hill, Sands Point, Williston Park and Great Neck Estates.

Last week, the Town of Hempstead also unanimously voted to opt out of the legislation. Other towns on Long Island that have opted out of the law include East Hampton, Oyster Bay, Islip, Shelter Island and Smithtown. Babylon and Southampton are the two towns that have opted into the law.

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