Gillen, King Sweeney talk temporary ban on recreational marijuana

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From left, Hempstead Town Clerk Sylvia Cabana, Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney and Supervisor Laura Gillen. (Photo by Jed Hendrixson)

The Town of Hempstead has joined the conversation on the potential legalization of recreational marijuana and will consider a possible ban on the sale of the substance.

At a press conference Friday, Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, joined by Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney and Town Clerk Sylvia Cabana, announced that the town will host a public hearing to consider a year long moratorium on the establishment of recreational marijuana stores, should the state legalize it.

Hempstead Town is proposing a potential moratorium on the sale of recreational marijuana. (Photo by Jed Hendrixson)

“The potential legalization of recreational cannabis has become a hot button issue, with municipalities such as the town left in a state of uncertainty,” Gillen said.

It is anticipated that the public hearing will be held Tuesday, Feb. 26, according to town officials.

In separate speeches this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio both expressed support in legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults, with the latter naming it one of his top priorities for 2019.

No state legislation has passed yet, Gillen said.

In a bipartisan effort, Gillen and the town board majority have agreed that a year-long ban on the sale of marijuana would provide ample time for the Nassau County marijuana task force to come to a decision on how the county, including towns and villages, should move forward.

“A moratorium will give us the time to review the state legislation once it is finalized,” Gillen said. “It will allow the Nassau County task force, created around this very issue, the time to develop their recommendation to the county executive and it will give residents an opportunity to be heard on this important matter.”

Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana is a complex, multifaceted issue with passionate voices on both sides, according to Gillen.

The county will ultimately be responsible for deciding whether to opt-in or out of the legalization of recreational marijuana, according to Gillen. She added that the conflicting federal laws, that deem the recreational use of marijuana illegal, have left municipalities in a “state of limbo not knowing what rules apply.”

“A rush at the town level to make a matter of judgment on this issue is just not wise,” Gillen said.

It would be a waste of time and taxpayer money to pass overhauling legislation outright banning the sale of recreational marijuana and then work with the county on rezoning stores thereafter, according to Gillen.

On Feb. 6, the county legislature will host a public hearing at 7 p.m. to address legalization, and on March 5 Hempstead will host the county task force for a discussion with residents.

“Regardless of personal beliefs, the town needs to be ready in case adult recreational marijuana does, in fact, become state law, and Nassau County decides not to opt out of the program,” Gillen said.

King Sweeney said that many of her constituents were contacting her office and social media sites on the topic of recreational marijuana and that the town wants to take the time to listen, engage the public and gauge residents opinions.

“I think we need to listen to families, we need to listen to schools, listen to members of the community and also to those advocating for this, to really see where we are,” King Sweeney said. “We’re sort of in uncharted territory.”

In addition to the potential moratorium, the town will also propose making the “smoking, consumption or displaying of cannabis or cannabis related products,” illegal in public facilities, like parks.

“With over 100 recreational facilities and thousands of acres of parklands and beaches, I think we can all agree that every measure should be taken to ensure that children and those with developing minds are not exposed to marijuana,” Gillen said.

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