Legal marijuana in question

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Legal marijuana in question


HAUPPAUGE—The Suffolk County Legislature held a public hearing on Monday, Feb. 25, where residents were invited to share their opinions on the potential impact that legalizing recreational marijuana in New York State would have on Suffolk County. It was a good turnout.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) wrote in a statement, prior to the meeting, that many considerations surround legalization. “This is a new industry that will impact society at every level,” Gregory added. “We are entering uncharted territory, and we want to make sure we hear all sides, explore all angles, and understand all opinions so that we are prepared, should this issue come before the Legislature.” 

New York stands to become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in December that he would push for legalization within the first 100 days of his third term. 

However, many local leaders throughout the state have pledged to combat the initiative. 

The Town of North Hempstead last month became the first Nassau County town to ban the sale of recreational marijuana. North Hempstead, which also passed two other marijuana-related amendments last year in preparation for statewide recreational use, is home to two of the three medical marijuana dispensaries on Long Island. The third is located in Riverhead. 

About 50 residents spoke during the meeting earlier this week, with a fair majority supporting legalization. 

Numerous speakers cited the economic benefits regarding legalization. John Durso, president of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW, said he represents about 300 workers in the cannabis industry. Durso said these jobs are “family-sustaining careers” that provide health care benefits and paid time off. The union president, like many other pro-legalization speakers, also expressed the need for a “tightly controlled market.” 

Durso, at one point in his speech, disclosed that his union advocated for the Compassionate Care Act, which was passed in 2014 and looks to provide a “comprehensive, safe and effective medical marijuana program that meets the needs of New Yorkers,” according to 

Other speakers who were supportive of recreational marijuana insisted that monetary incentives shouldn’t be the main reason for legalization. 

Aside from the 10 states, along with Washington, D.C., that have legalized recreational marijuana, New York is one of the 23 states to legalize medical marijuana. Numerous speakers, who said they suffer from chronic pain or post-traumatic stress due to past injuries or trauma, said cannabis treats their ailments better than prescription drugs. 

Joanne Lynch, a mother from Kings Park, has been disabled for several years. “I decided to sign up for medical marijuana two years ago after the medical industry failed me,” Lynch said, adding that cannabis has been “fantastic” for her symptoms. She also doesn’t find it to be addictive. “I don’t feel withdrawals like I would with Percocet and other medications.”

Abigail Field, a mother and Cutchogue-based lawyer, believes marijuana should be seen as a vice, like alcohol or cigarettes. “I’m not going to tell you [marijuana] is safe,” Field told the legislative body, but she supports legalization in terms of “harm reduction.” 

Field cited high incarceration rates due to marijuana possession. She also addressed Long Island’s opioid crisis, which many see as an argument against legalization. Field, on the other hand, took the stance that the opioid crisis is largely caused by the “mass marketing of prescription drugs.” 

Mary Finnegan, a retired health care worker opposed to legalization, was one of the several speakers who called marijuana a “gateway drug.” Finnegan also cited law enforcement’s inability to detect whether someone is high on cannabis as a reason against legalization. 

Steve Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, didn’t deny what he called the “medical benefits” of marijuana, but he also cited the fact that Suffolk County has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the state. Chassman said he is asked on a regular basis how many people overdose from marijuana, to which he always responds, “none.” But he always follows up his answer with a question of his own regarding how many young people’s lives have been “derailed” or “sidetracked” by using cannabis. 

Chassman went on to say that marijuana use plays a “significant role” in motor vehicle fatalities, which are evident in the memorials that line Long Island’s roadways. He also noted that his agency already receives an average of 1,132 calls a month from individuals suffering from substance abuse. 

One speaker, who voiced his support for recreational marijuana, responded to Chassman’s number later in the evening with his opinion that Suffolk County, a community of just under 1.5 million people, shouldn’t base such significant decision on the unfortunate situation of “one-in-1,000 people.”

Michael Como, a small-business owner from Huntington, admitted to using marijuana in the 1990s and 2000s. Como said he appreciated that numerous speakers pointed out that marijuana, in decades past, contained less THC, something he wasn’t aware of until recently. However, this didn’t deter his support for recreational cannabis. 

The amount of speakers who support legalization shouldn’t be surprising, considering a Quinnipiac University poll that was released earlier this year. The poll found that the majority of New York State voters, 65-31 percent, support allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana. It also found that voters, 59-39 percent, support the sale of marijuana in their community. Results for this latest figure were similar among New York City, upstate and suburban voters. 

The poll, which surveyed 929 New York State voters from Jan. 16-21, through landlines and cellphones, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points. The results also found that 54 percent of voters said they wouldn’t try marijuana if it were legalized, while 58 percent expressed concern that marijuana use will lead to an increase in auto accidents. 

It appears age and political party are major factors in distinguishing one’s personal views on recreational marijuana. Registered Democrats in New York State support adults being able to possess small amounts of marijuana by 77 percent, where only 20 percent oppose, according to Quinnipiac University’s results. Registered Republicans in New York State support personal use by 52 percent, while 44 percent oppose. 

Individuals between the ages of 18 and 34 support adults being able to possess small amounts of marijuana by 84 percent, where only 16 percent oppose it. Individuals between the ages of 35 and 64 support recreational use in the upwards of 65 percent, while 27 – 30 percent are opposed. Fifty-two percent of those over 65-years-old support recreational use for adults, where 44 percent do not. 

Education, gender and geographical location saw slight differences in opinion, but nothing significant. Suburban voters in New York State support recreational marijuana use by 59 percent, where 34 percent are opposed. New York City voters support it 69 percent, to 27 percent against. Upstate voters support recreational use by 64 percent, and 32 percent are opposed. 

Sixty-seven percent of male voters in New York support recreational marijuana, while 64 percent of women also support it.