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OpinionEditorial

Selling marijuana on Long Island 

A customer pays for recreational marijuana products at

A customer pays for recreational marijuana products at a dispensary. Credit: Getty Images / iStock

Today, we highlight a complex issue in the news, provide multiple perspectives and present our view on the controversy. Our hope is to start a conversation that better informs all of us, and we invite you to share your insights. Email letters@newsday.com with the subject line “pot” or tweet to @NewsdayOpinion.

The passage of the New York State Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act last month was just a first step toward the commercial sale of pot on Long Island.

But there are many questions about the law's granular details, and implementation won't be easy.

First up is decision time for towns, cities and villages.

Albany lawmakers allowed jurisdictions to opt out of permitting adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or licenses for on-site consumption by passing a local law by the end of the year. That decision can be reversed by referendum.

THE CASE

Choosing to opt out

Many Long Island supervisors, mayors and lawmakers appear poised to opt out on marijuana. Their concerns about legal pot are similar and long-standing ones, including road safety if drivers are high. Those who say — rightly or wrongly — that pot is a gateway to harder drugs worry that younger people could move beyond weed.

In fact, much of the opt-out discussion has centered on young people. Local leaders have stressed their issues with having marijuana sold near schools, playgrounds, or government buildings.

Among the more Long Island-specific concerns is the possibility that Suffolk County farmers will abandon less-profitable crops and construct large, unattractive structures to grow the substance year-round.

THE COUNTER

A big loss in sales tax

If communities do opt out from the state's marijuana program, that would have only limited impact on usage. Marijuana would still be legal to possess: The law does not allow localities to opt out of legalization. And pot could still be grown within a town or village’s borders.

What these jurisdictions would be opting out from, however, is tax revenue: Local sales tax from cannabis will be 4% of the retail price, with Nassau or Suffolk receiving 1% and the rest going to the municipality where the retail sale occurred. If a village is within a town and both permit cannabis sales, the law says that the town and village decide how to divvy up the revenue, or otherwise split it evenly.

That funding would have no strings attached. It's money that Long Island municipalities can use as they see fit, like addressing their concerns about weed use by funding drug education, for example.

There could be significant money at stake. Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman's rough calculation suggests sales there could generate close to $1 million a year in tax revenue for the town and its villages.

Keep in mind that places that allow sales can still create local laws about the time, place and manner of operation of marijuana shops and venues that serve it. Zoning has a checkered history on Long Island but, applied fairly, it could be a tool to make sure a village or town's marijuana infrastructure fits what residents want.

THE CONTEXT

Worthy uses for revenue

Market analysis estimates this could be a $1.2 billion business in the next two years, and triple that not long after. The tax revenue can be used for various purposes and to smooth different problems.

Once the costs of running a statewide cannabis licensing and oversight program are deducted, 40% of the state’s portion of the new tax goes to a New York State Community Grants Reinvestment Fund. The rest is split between the state lottery fund for school aid and the state's drug treatment and education programs.

The new community fund is to be governed and administered by the state cannabis advisory board. The grants can support areas such as job skills services, adult education, legal services, and loans for starting cannabis businesses given to "social and economic equity applicants."

The law also sets a goal that 50% of the licenses issued by the state's cannabis regulators be awarded to people, particularly minorities, whose lives were impacted by disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws.

OUR TAKE

We can do this right

Opting out of marijuana sales makes little sense for Long Island's towns, cities and villages. New York now permits the legal sale of cannabis. Going in the opposite direction will not stop people from using or growing it in their communities. If sales of wine were outlawed in a village or town, would residents not buy it elsewhere? Long Islanders likely wouldn't have to drive far — whether to Shinnecock tribal land or the Queens border — to make their pot purchases. All the dissenting town or village would lose is the revenue.

Other states have done this successfully. New York can do it, too.

A careful rollout of legal marijuana is still necessary, including monitoring to prevent fraud in the awarding of licenses. If clarifications to the law are necessary, they should be done quickly. And these lucrative business opportunities must be spread around the state. Much of the potential tens of millions in new tax revenue will be well spent on education funding and drug and mental health programs. The communities and people whose lives were disrupted by America’s decadeslong drug war must be the ultimate beneficiaries.

Other states have done this successfully. New York can do it, too.

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