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Laura Curran announces recreational pot task force

A group of legislators and local leaders will look into possible consequences and ways to prepare for the potential statewide legalization of recreational marijuana. County Executive Laura Curran announced the task force on Thursday, alongside Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and county Legis. Joshua Lafazan, the committee's co-chairs. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Thursday announced the creation of a county task force dedicated to studying the possible ramifications of statewide legalization of recreational marijuana, a measure supported by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

As New York lawmakers hammer out the details of a policy, Nassau's task force will study the effects of legalization on public safety, business and other issues, officials said.

Last month, Cuomo said legalizing recreational marijuana would be a priority in the 2019 legislative session, which began this week. Some Democratic state lawmakers long have supported legalizing recreational weed.

Nassau officials said it was key to study the issue, painting the legislation as an inevitability that will involve changes to local laws, procedures and regulations on health and public safety fronts. The potential legislation has stirred uncertainty in local communities. On Tuesday, the North Hempstead Town Board passed legislation banning the retail sale of recreational marijuana.

If the proposal is approved, New York would join 10 other states with legalized recreational marijuana, which could generate millions of dollars in sales tax revenue for local municipalities.

"Regardless of how we might feel as individuals about the issue of recreational marijuana, we know that this reality will soon be coming, and Nassau County needs to be ready — and I intend on ensuring that we are on day one," Curran said at a news conference in Mineola.

The task force will develop policy recommendations and examine implementation of legal marijuana in other states, Curran said.

Curran also pointed to opportunities to promote business and collect tax revenues. “This will be a challenge, but it will also be an opportunity,” she said.

Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and county Legis. Joshua Lafazan of Woodbury, who is unaffiliated but caucuses with Democrats, will co-chair the task force.

"Thirty-five years in law enforcement, never thought this day would come, but it may come, and when it does, we have to be prepared," Ryder said at the news conference.

He said police officers will need to be retrained and taught how to identify motorists who have smoked marijuana and are driving vehicles impaired. Ryder said officials also will have to establish standards and protocols for how drug evidence is gathered and tested in laboratories and presented to the courts. 

Officials of some municipalities in New York have expressed concern about allowing recreational weed. Last month, the State Association of County Health Officials called on the state Legislature to derail the proposal, citing concerns there was not enough evidence that showed legalization wouldn't harm communities.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said the type of study Curran envisions “is exactly what local communities and governments need to be doing, which is preparing for what may be coming sooner rather than later.”

Municipal officials are facing issues including whether to allow retail marijuana sales and how much it would cost to enforce public safety laws, Kaminsky said.

The cost figures may determine “how we cut the revenue up and what's needed to keep the roads safe,” Kaminsky said.

Lafazan, 24, said, "No generation will be more impacted by the policy decisions government makes surrounding drugs than my generation," and listed several policy proposals, including a $1 fee imposed for each marijuana sale and a ban on selling recreational marijuana products at Nassau Community College's Campus, at the Nassau Coliseum, in county buildings, and in parks and preserves.

Lafazan called on state legislators to fund public service announcements aimed at educating residents about the dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana. He also said harsh penalties should be in effect for underage purchases and impaired driving.

"My generation understands that you do not drive drunk," Lafazan said. "What my generation egregiously misses is that you do not drive high."

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

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