Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone intends to introduce legislation next week that would establish a one-year moratorium on the cultivation and sale of marijuana in Suffolk County.
The announcement Wednesday comes on the heels of Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s intent to opt-out if state lawmakers authorize legal recreational use. Ms. Curran made the announcement during her State of the County address in Uniondale Tuesday.
“A one-year window will provide the county the necessary timeframe to solicit feedback from experts, law enforcement and community leaders on the health and safety issues associated with this proposal,” Mr. Bellone said.
Under the state proposal, counties and cities with more than 100,000 residents would be able to opt-out.
Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta introduced legislation in January that would allow Suffolk County to opt out of the law.
“Having been a police officer for 25 years, I know firsthand that making marijuana available for sale is a step in the wrong direction,” Mr. Trotta said in a press release announcing the legislation.
In an interview Thursday, Mr. Trotta called the county executive’s proposal an election year stunt.
“He’s playing both sides. It provides the perfect cover in an election year,” he said.
Further explaining his position on legalizing marijuana, Mr. Trotta said he is against legalizing the drug to generate revenue.
Two public hearings were held in Hauppauge and Riverhead on the proposal which drew a mixed response from residents.
At a hearing in Riverhead March 5, residents mostly favored the sale of recreational marijuana in Suffolk County, but warned that it should be well-regulated.
“I hope the state will empower local communities to put their own regulations on it,” said Abigail Field, a Cutchogue resident.
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In a letter to The Suffolk Times following the hearing, Ms. Field said she supports responsible legalization because it would result in less harm than prohibition of marijuana.
“Regulation should be organized to minimize harm, not maximize tax revenue,” she said, adding marijuana should be restricted in many of the same ways as cigarettes and the type of regulations in place for liquor.
Nearly all who spoke at the Riverhead hearing in favor of allowing recreational pot sales referenced the tax benefits reaped in states that have already legalized the drug.
The county executive’s proposal would give the county one year to weigh effects and benefits if the state proposal becomes law. After that period, the county legislature could decide to extend the ban or not.
Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said Thursday that it’s a complicated issue, but the public hearings were helpful to hear residents’ concerns.
“Really, we need to know exactly what the state is going to allow, and how we’re going to make sure it doesn’t get in the hands of children. There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered,” he said.
“Hopefully, we learn from other state’s successes and failures.”