Williston Park to hold hearing on marijuana opt out

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Williston Park board of trustees heard from members of the public at a meeting last June. Monday's meeting will be held at village hall. (Photo by Samuele Petruccelli)

The Williston Park board of trustees will hold a public hearing Monday to consider whether it will follow the footsteps of neighboring villages by opting out of allowing marijuana sales.

At the hearing slated for 7 p.m. at Village Hall, residents will have an opportunity to share their opinions on how trustees should vote to interpret the recent statewide legalization of cannabis, signed by Gov. Cuomo. Trustees could take a vote on the matter as early as that night or schedule it for a later date.

Localities have until the end of this year to make their choice.

Under the new state law, consumption and smoking of cannabis is now legal throughout New York wherever smoking tobacco is legal. Municipalities, however, can refuse to allow the retail sale of the substance, though they will not get to share in any generated tax revenue.

Efforts to reach Williston Park trustees were unavailing.

Neighboring villages have already made their choice, however, deciding to opt out of allowing brick-and-mortar dispensaries to offer marijuana products to customers.

New Hyde Park most recently voted unanimously to prohibit such dispensaries or any cannabis consumption establishments at a board of trustees meeting last Thursday.

The adjacent village of Floral Park also opted out, but not before hearing concerns from Mayor Kevin Fitzgerald.

“I personally don’t think the potential revenue would outweigh any of the social costs,” Fitzgerald said. “Therefore, I vote aye.”

The cost-benefit analysis of additional revenue for the village is something to consider, according to DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel at the Marijuana Policy Project, a nationwide advocacy organization for marijuana legalization.

A lot of municipalities are trying to figure out what’s best for their communities,” Ward said. “But essentially all they’re doing is shutting down their towns from the revenue.”

Ward referred to the potential of a 4 percent local tax as a revenue generator for governments. That extra income can be applied to civic engagement, with one municipality in Colorado even using it for funding school construction, Ward said.

“They’re closing off their borders to cannabis businesses and essentially just closing off their municipalities to the revenue that could be generated,” Ward said.

And though state legislation gives neighborhoods a choice of participating in the marijuana market, Ward said there’s no sign of it moderating the size of the industry statewide.

“I don’t think these individual opt-outs are going to have much of a damper on the industry,” Ward said. “It didn’t stop Colorado as a state from having a robust cannabis market.”

“Typically, these smaller municipalities opt out, and then some of the larger population centers permit it,” Ward said. “Maybe Westbury and Nassau County may opt out, folks are still going to be a short drive away from Queens or Manhattan or Brooklyn.”

“The reality is folks are already consuming this product, there is demand for this product, and folks will be a short drive from it no matter where they’re located in Long Island,” Ward said.

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