Local pols poised to vote against legalization of recreational marijuana

Is the third time the charm for legalizing recreational marijuana in New York State?

Lawmakers in Albany have reportedly reached a deal on the latest proposal, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo described earlier this year as a top legislative priority.

“We have passed the point of legalized cannabis,” the governor said during a briefing Wednesday. “It’s in New Jersey, it’s in Massachusetts. To say we’re going to stop it is not an option. It is here.”

Under the proposal, adults 21 years and older could legally purchase up to three ounces or cultivate their own plants.

It would be taxed at 13% with a portion of the funds allocated for education, drug-treatment and social-equity programs to aid communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the “war on drugs.”

The proposal would also include the formation of an Office of Cannabis Management to oversee licensing for cultivation, processing, retail sales and sites for “social consumption.”

Local municipalities would have an option to opt-out of allowing retail sales, consumption sites and delivery.

In 2019, as state officials considered a similar measure, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone introduced legislation that would have allowed Suffolk to opt out of allowing sales for one year, citing the need to gather more feedback from experts, law enforcement and community leaders.

It’s unclear if Mr. Bellone would support a similar proposal this time around — a representative for the county executive did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

State officials have projected that taxes levied on marijuana sales could bring $350 million in revenue, a much needed financial boost. But that revenue wouldn’t be fully realized for several years and the state is already facing a projected $2.5 billion deficit in the coming fiscal year.

“I think the pandemic was kind of a cause to do it in [the Democrats’] mind,” said state Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), referring to the budget challenges. “I think it’s a reason for us not to do it, in light of the fact that drug abuse and overdoses are up. We don’t need to introduce more intoxicants into the picture.”

Mr. Palumbo, a former prosecutor, said one concern is that driving under the influence would be considered a violation under the proposal and marijuana intoxication can be difficult to prove.

In an interview Thursday, Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R,C,I—Riverhead) said she expects the proposal will be presented for a vote as early as next week.

With Democrats now in control of both houses in the state legislature, Ms. Giglio said the measure is poised to pass, though she’s not inclined to support it.

“The devil is in the details,” she said. “There are too many unanswered questions.”

Concerns Ms. Giglio said she’d like to see get addressed include the proximity of both farming or retail operations to schools and churches and how the drug will be detected in drivers suspected of being under its influence.

She also worries children might be tempted to use it if it’s more accessible.

On the North Fork, already a destination for vineyards and local farms, could marijuana be another tourist attraction?

“Are we going to see our bucolic farmland turn into all greenhouses?” Ms. Giglio asked, pointing out that the region is already burdened with heavy traffic and failing infrastructure.

It’s a concern shared by Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who said he’d be “vehemently opposed” to classifying marijauna as a “bona fide agricultural product.”

“The likely result would be large, climate and light-controlled buildings on farmland for production,” he said, which, if considered agricultural, would be difficult for the town to regulate.

“Security would also be a challenge for a town reliant on a small police department,” Mr. Russell noted.

Greybeard Growers is a hemp farm in Aquebogue that would be interested in growing marijuana. (Credit: Felicia LaLomia)

Local farmers already cultivating hemp, a member of the cannabis family that does not contain large amounts of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, are well-positioned to enter the recreational marijuana market. Of the 32 Suffolk County growers listed as authorized research partners under the state’s Ag & Markets hemp pilot program, at least 10 are located on the North Fork.

In Aquebogue, the family behind Long Season Farms began growing hemp last year under the brand Greybeard Growers and offers a line of CBD products used for anxiety and other ailments.

General manager Kyle Jurow said the recreational market is definitely of interest.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get out hands on a license,” he said Thursday.

“There’s a lot of red tape to navigate with hemp and I’m sure there will be a whole different set of hurdles to go with marijuana,” Mr. Jurow said, explaining that one thing he’d like to see is an emphasis on small growers, rather than large conglomerates that control the market.

He said the enthusiasm is palpable and attributes the recent push to a confluence of factors, including changing attitudes surrounding adult marijuana use and that 15 states have already approved recreational programs either by legislation or public referendum.

“It’s an uphill battle to keep prohibition going while everyone around us has legalized,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunity.”