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recreational marijuana

Photo by Elsa Olofsson: www.cbdoracle.com

Long Island saw its first recreational marijuana store open in Farmingdale last month. It understandably raises the question of many eager — or anxious — residents as to when a cannabis store will open near them.

We commend our local towns for taking reasonable steps to ensure that marijuana sales impact our quality of life as little as possible. While Smithtown and Huntington have opted out, Brookhaven voted to allow sales, with stringent zoning restrictions, as have Babylon, Riverhead and Southampton.

Cannabis sales can work in our community, but only if each of us stops and thinks about how our actions impact others. Smoking a joint on the beach or on a nature trail fills the air with the smell of cannabis, which is unpleasant. Those who choose to consume cannabis should keep the smoking to their homes, be considerate of neighbors and always be responsible when driving.

We remind parents and other adults to keep their cannabis products secure and out of the hands of children, as THC is proven to induce anxiety, paranoia and other harmful effects in minors.

We also must be considerate, taking steps to ensure we are not impacting each other’s quality of life. As Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) described in a story in our papers this week, people are already contacting the town to ask for exemptions to the strict zoning ordinance surrounding cannabis.

The rules and regulations are there for a reason, and we agree with Kornreich in being hesitant to grant exemptions. We understand that people want to make a living. Yet in trying to skate around the rules at such an early stage of legalization, it shows a lack of consideration to the rest of the community. 

We hope all of our community members reflect on our behaviors surrounding cannabis, and not forget there is enforcement for those who break the rules. They are there for a reason. Let’s follow them.

Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich. Photo from Brookhaven Town website

By Leah Chiappino

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Recreational marijuana has been legalized in New York state since 2021, allowing for adults 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of cannabis.

Despite Brookhaven being one of just four Long Island towns to allow sales, with conditions, no locations have opened shop within the township. The first recreational cannabis shop on Long Island opened last month in Farmingdale in the Town of Oyster Bay, Nassau County. 

The Town of Brookhaven zoning restrictions include bans on recreational cannabis shops within 500 feet of homes and 1,000 feet of schools, as well as a “church or other place of religious worship, park, playground, or playing field, library, hospital or similar public or semi-public place of general congregation, or non-degree-granting instruction/programs, including self-defense, dance, swimming, gymnastics, and other sports.” Stores must also be at least a mile apart and aren’t permitted in downtowns. 

Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) said in a recent phone interview he can’t think of locations in his Council District 1 — extending from Stony Brook to Port Jefferson Station and Terryville — that would fit these requirements. However, he has received calls from those eager to open cannabis shops, but in order to do so, need an exemption to the zoning rules. 

“There are already people who are contacting us saying, ‘We found a property … it meets most of the requirements, but not all of them. Can we get an exception?’” he said. “And people are already looking for exceptions to a brand new rule and there’s a lot of pressure.”

Kornreich isn’t keen on granting exemptions, in large part because the rules are new, he said. He also worries that once one exemption is granted, the town will have to approve the next person who comes along wanting the exemption.

“I am extremely reluctant to immediately start walking back the rules that we’ve just finished establishing,” he said. “I think for now we should probably stick with no exceptions.”

A self-described progressive, Kornreich said he understands the benefits to legalization, from a “personal liberty” point of view, as well as the benefits of the town gaining tax revenue from sales, which is why the Town Council chose to opt-in in the first place. 

“If people want to smoke this stuff, it’s probably not as dangerous as alcohol, which is legal,” he said. “We also have to figure out how to balance that out against things like traffic safety, and how do we monitor for people driving under the influence because it does affect reaction times.”

The Drug Prevention Coalition, an advocacy group in Kornreich’s district that is focused on drug prevention for youth, is trying to advocate and educate against underage cannabis consumption, and is doing as much outreach as possible. 

Kornreich said he is concerned that allowing cannabis stores in downtowns and smoking in public will normalize cannabis smoking for children.

“I don’t think it’s going to be healthy for our kids to create this permissive environment where people are just doing it all over the place,” he said.

The look of having cannabis stores around them, much like vape shops, he said, is “not great.” Another concern Kornreich has is the public being inconsiderate, and smoking in parks and other community spaces.

“I think most [cigarette] smokers are pretty considerate and they will go off to the side and they stay out of the way,” he said. “But people who are smoking weed, they just seem to be OK with walking down the street and doing it.”

In order to shore up the regulations and compliance, Kornreich would like to see enforcement from New York State and Suffolk County on stores illegally selling cannabis.

“This was never meant to turn into a free-for-all,” he said. “We were just trying to legalize it.”

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has put New York on a path to become the 10th state in the United States to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. We’re in favor of jumping on the national movement, so long as it’s done with both eyes wide open.

On Aug. 2, Cuomo announced that he was forming a group of 20 experts specializing in public health, safety and economics to draft legislation to regulate the recreational use of marijuana by adults. The bill would go before the state Legislature in January 2019.

Laws surrounding marijuana have been gradually shifting since California legalized its medical use in 1996. A number of scientific studies have shown the drug may be beneficial for those suffering from chronic pain, seizures and mental impairments. New York adopted medical marijuana laws in July 2014.

The state’s foray into opening the medical marijuana market has been closely regulated. Patients need to be formally diagnosed by a licensed medical practitioner, have it prescribed, register with the state and carry an identification card. The state has limited the number of dispensaries, making for news whenever a site opens.

Moving toward decriminalizing recreational use of pot — as its more commonly called — could provide several benefits. Colorado, one of the first states to allow smoking marijuana in 2012, saw an immediate economic boom. It saw a vast spike in tourism, something unlikely to repeat here in New York, but reports show benefits from taxing and regulating what was once an underground market.

The Gazette, a Colorado Springs newspaper, reported in July that studies show there’s been an increase in the number of adults who are indulging in marijuana, while the number of high school and middle school students who report testing it out has held steady at or below the national average. Simply put, if a teen was tempted to try it — marijuana’s legality wasn’t stopping them.

New York approving legislation allowing for the drug’s recreational use — treating it similarly to alcohol — could open up avenues for regulations of an otherwise black market turning it into a resource to provide tax revenue for the state. The funds would arguably benefit school districts and could be used to help close state budgetary shortfalls while helping offset any further tax hikes.

The drafted bill should outline restrictions on smoking up more in line with shifting socially acceptable drugs, like alcohol. We agree age restrictions, limitations on appropriate places and enforcement against drugged driving need to be on the books.

The issue becomes, can marijuana be safely, legally and responsibly used?

State legislators need to create a carefully crafted, well-thought out bill that sets parameters to allow for regulation of what’s already happening. Each week, TBR News Media reporters see countless incidents of people being arrested for possessing or smoking marijuana — without committing other criminal behavior. Regulate it, create a market and be flexible to amending the laws when — not if — loopholes emerge.

It’s time to refocus our law enforcement’s efforts on cracking down on Long Island’s illegal heroin and opioid problems, which can and do result in fatal overdoses and places stress on our health care system.