County creates marijuana task force to prepare for state legalization

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Nassau County Executive Laura with marijuana task force co-chair's Legislator Josh Lafazan (left) and police commissioner Patrick Ryder. (Photo courtesy of the Nassau County Legislature Minority Caucus)

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced Thursday the creation of a task force to prepare for the anticipated state legalization of recreational marijuana.

The task force will be co-chaired by county Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and county Legislator Josh Lafazan (D-Syosset).

The group intends to consult with experts and the community to compile a report that can be used to inform potential county legislation, Lafazan said.

The police department will also be developing a training program to help officers identify marijuana-impaired drivers as well as educational programs for the community, Ryder said.

“Regardless of how we might feel as individuals about the issues of recreational marijuana, we know that this reality will soon be coming and Nassau County needs to be ready, and I intend ensuring that we are on day one,” Curran said at a press conference held Thursday to announce the task force.

Lafazan presented five ideas he has already developed that he hopes to bring to the table on the task force.

Among them were zoning regulations for dispensaries to maintain distance from schools and houses of worship, a $1 fee per recreational marijuana transaction and a use ban at places such as Nassau Community College and county parks.

The task force plans to hold community hearings throughout the county as well as study legalization in other states and New York’s assessment on the impact of legalization.

Members of the task force include Nassau County Chambers of Commerce president Francesca Carlow, county Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, Family and Children’s Association president Jeff Reynolds, Freeport High School assistant principal Giselle Campbell-Ham, Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand and First Baptist Cathedral of Westbury Bishop Lionel Harvey.

The Town of North Hempstead banned the sale of recreational marijuana on Tuesday. The Village of Munsey Park is developing legislation to do so as well.

When asked whether she was concerned about such jurisdictions channeling revenue from the new industry out of the county, Curran said, “I’m not their boss.”

“They need to make the decisions that they feel are best for them,” she said.

Both Lafazan and Ryder expressed concern about the possibility of an increased population driving while under the influence of marijuana should it be legalized.

A 2016 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that drugs had minimal effects on crash risk compared to alcohol, especially when accounting for factors such as age and gender.

However, more studies are needed, it said, and one shouldn’t assume that it is necessarily safe to drive while high.

Colorado, Oregon and Washington had 5.2 percent more crashes per million registered vehicles once they legalizing recreational marijuana, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Curran, Lafazan and Ryder said that their individual opinions on the merits of marijuana legalization were irrelevant to the goals of the task force.

Lafazan, however, admitted to having “personal reservations” and Ryder alluded to being against legalization as well.

“I think you all know my position on legalizing marijuana,” he said. “I think you know most of law enforcement’s position on legalization marijuana. Cops have died in the war on drugs. But we don’t get to choose what side of the picket line we stand. We have to stand with the law and enforce the law as it’s served down to us and that’s what we’ll do as professionals.”

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