Nassau County legislative committees passed a bill Monday that would opt Nassau County out of legalized sales of recreational marijuana should the state legalize the program.
In Albany, members of the Democratic-led Senate and Assembly are reviewing legalization of recreational marijuana. Counties or cities with more than 100,000 residents can opt out of legalized sales, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's legislative proposal.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, said last month she would ask the County Legislature to opt out of the program. Also last month, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Suffolk would opt out of legalized marijuana sales, but the Suffolk legislation would include a provision legalizing marijuana sales after one year.
The Nassau bill, sponsored by Republican lawmakers, mentions concerns about crime, traffic fatalities, and suicide spikes in states that have legalized marijuana. It also included fear that an "increased migrant homeless population" will "likely occur in Nassau County if recreational cannabis is legalized."
Republicans pointed to a line in the county's task force report, which was chaired by Legis. Joshua Lafazan, a Woodbury resident who caucuses with Democrats, and Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder: "While we cannot quantify exact numbers, other states that have legalized cannabis noticed an increase in homeless migrants inhabiting their communities," the report reads. "Such an increase in the homeless population can cause additional strain on social services and medically related services associated with cannabis use."
The County Legislature's Health & Social Services and Rules committees both unanimously voted to send the bill to a full legislative vote scheduled for later this month.
Liz Borlen, a parent volunteer with the Rockville Centre Coalition for Youth, said during the hearing: "We have so many suicides and overdoses that we're dealing with, and this is a gateway drug."
When Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) said he would reserve comment for the full legislature, Legis. C. William Gaylor III (R-Lynbrook), said: "This is a no-brainer, all right, an absolute no-brainer. There is no place in Nassau County for even discussing the possible use of recreational marijuana. ... We are fighting an opioid epidemic."
Melissa Moore, deputy state director with the Manhattan-based Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement: "The Nassau County Republicans reasons for opting out of adult-use marijuana are out of step with the facts. ... It's clear that doubling down on prohibition will not solve the problems facing Nassau County when it comes to marijuana. We believe that it is time to stop the ineffective, racially biased, and unjust enforcement of marijuana prohibition and instead create a new, well-regulated, and inclusive marijuana industry that can better restrict minors’ access to marijuana and is rooted in racial and economic justice."