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Steve Bellone: Let Suffolk opt out of legalized marijuana

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks at a

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks at a news conference in Hauppauge on Jan. 11. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone will propose legislation next week to allow the county to opt out of legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana.

But the measure has a one-year sunset provision that would make marijuana legal after a year, unless the county legislature votes to continue the ban.

“A one-year window will provide the county the necessary time frame to solicit feedback from experts, law enforcement, and community leaders on the health and safety issues associated with this proposal,” Bellone said in a statement.

Bellone's announcement came a day after Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced her opposition to legalization of marijuana sales in Nassau. She said she would pursue  opt-out legislation for Nassau if the state legalizes recreational marijuana.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal to make pot legal would allow counties and cities with more than 100,000 residents to opt out. Marijuana would become legal in any county that takes no action.

Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), presiding officer of the Suffolk Legislature, said that even if state pot legislation passes, it will take several years to create rules and procedures to put the law into effect.

“The language is going to matter,” said Gregory. He said he considered Bellone's legislation a way "to make sure it doesn’t restrict us later from doing what we think is necessary in the future.”

But Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy, a Republican who is running for county executive in November, called Bellone's resolution a backdoor attempt to allow the state law, if it passes, to take effect after Election Day.

“To limit an opt-out to 12 months is the height of hypocrisy because it could put the bill into effect without any further legislative debate," Kennedy said. "It’s like a poison pill.”

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who also has announced a challenge to Bellone, called Bellone’s move a stalling tactic. “It sound to me like he wants to put off a decision in an election year,” Trotta said.

Bellone’s action also came after the Nassau and Suffolk Village Officials associations announced their opposition to legalization.

Farmingdale Village Mayor Ralph Ekstrand, who heads the Nassau association, said legalization would be “unwise and harmful” and have a negative impact “on almost every aspect of village life from public health to law enforcement.”

Nissequogue Mayor Richard B. Smith, Suffolk association president said, “Long Island … [is] in the midst of a horrible opioid crisis. Legalizing another drug is just going to … lead to more human suffering.”

Smith also called it a “great disservice” that Cuomo’s bill would not allow towns and villages to opt out as well.

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