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Hempstead approves moratorium on marijuana sales

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen said the town should

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen said the town should "hit pause" on recreational pot sales. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead Town Board on Tuesday unanimously passed a one-year moratorium on recreational marijuana sales and a ban on smoking pot at town beaches, marinas and parks.

Town officials passed the two bills as they prepare for New York State to legalize recreational marijuana later this year.

Supervisor Laura Gillen said the moratorium would allow the town to examine state law and possible regulations. She said the law under consideration appears to give authority to counties to opt out of marijuana sales. If Nassau County opts in, the town would need to draft zoning rules to address where recreational marijuana could be sold, officials said.

“As a town, to hit pause and see how the legal landscape shakes out, is the most responsible thing to do right now,” Gillen said.

The town’s ban on smoking marijuana at town facilities and parks will include a $250 fine and a citation for violation. Town officials plan to post new signage at parks prohibiting pot smoking.

Several board members spoke against legalizing marijuana and called on state legislators to reconsider recreational sales.

“I am unequivocally against legalizing marijuana in New York State,” Councilman Bruce Blakeman said. “This is a public health disaster if recreational marijuana is legalized and I urge state officials to reject this ill-advised plan.”

Blakeman said he still supports medicinal marijuana and previously invested in a Massachusetts dispensary company aimed at opening in Nassau County. He said he sold his stake in the company, PalliaTech, when he said the biotech firm also pursued recreational marijuana.

Advocates at the meeting cited data showing a disparity of marijuana arrests and minority communities.

Susan Gottehrer, Nassau County chapter director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said there were 20,000 arrests on Long Island between 2010 and 2017 and two thirds of those arrested were black and Latino. She said minorities were disproportionately affected.

Another speaker, Troy Smith with the marijuana advocacy group, Empire State NORML, cited a Siena College poll that found 56 percent of residents statewide support legalizing marijuana.

Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, a former NYPD officer, said marijuana arrests are not racially based.

“It is either marijuana or it’s not,” D’Esposito said. “To claim police are enforcing it in a biased manner is not true.”

D’Esposito also called on the town to find funding to train Hempstead Town public safety officers and bay constables on how to identify marijuana for enforcement.

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