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Hempstead to propose restrictions on marijuana

Town officials say they will vote on a one-year moratorium on pot sales and a ban on smoking marijuana in town parks. 

Supervisor Laura Gillen announced on Friday that the town will be calling a public hearing to consider a moratorium on the establishment of recreational marijuana establishments. (Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman)

Hempstead Town Board members,  in anticipation of state legalization, are planning to vote later this month on a pair of measures to restrict the use and sale of marijuana.

Supervisor Laura Gillen, a Democrat, and Majority Leader Erin King Sweeney, a Republican, are backing proposals for a one-year moratorium on dispensaries and marijuana sales in the town and a ban on smoking pot in town parks.

“Regardless of personal beliefs, the town needs to be ready in case this becomes law,”  Gillen said at a news conference Friday. “We should hit the pause button for a year to study the issue and allow the public to voice their opinions.”

Gillen said it appears the state will leave the decision to the counties to opt in or out of marijuana sales.

She said it would be a waste of money and resources to begin the process of rezoning for marijuana dispensaries until the state and Nassau County make a decision.

A county task force will hold a public hearing at the Nassau County Legislature chambers Wednesday and a presentation at 7 p.m. on March 5 at Hempstead Town Hall.

“This is not a ban on marijuana sales, but rather the opportunity for us to gather the information needed to make decisions in the best interest of our residents,” King Sweeney said at the news conference.

Hempstead will also vote on banning smoking or displaying any cannabis or related paraphernalia in town parks, beaches and more than 100 town-operated facilities.

The town is expected at its meeting Tuesday to formally schedule a Feb. 26 public hearing and vote on the two proposals.

“The unregulated location and operation of retail marijuana users within the town raises legitimate and substantial questions about the impact of such uses on the town,” the resolution states.

The resolution cites concern of sale of marijuana to minors and “potential criminal activity” and “potential increase burden on local law enforcement.”

The moratorium excludes sales of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but there are no medical marijuana dispensaries in the town.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said he will back state legislation to legalize recreational marijuana and sales in New York. He said the state and communities need to prepare for marijuana regulations.

Hempstead’s legislation would ban marijuana sales in America’s largest township of 780,000 residents. The moratorium would apply to the town’s unincorporated areas and hamlets, but not Hempstead’s 22 incorporated villages, which may pass their own regulations.

Hempstead has no specific laws regarding marijuana sales in town code, and town officials said they need at least one year to examine regulations.

The move follows other municipalities that have taken action or started discussions on pot sales.

North Hempstead last month became the first town on Long Island to ban the sale of recreational marijuana.

A trio of Suffolk County Republican legislators proposed a bill Thursday for the county to opt out of recreational pot sales. 

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