Where should Suffolk stand on marijuana?

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Where should Suffolk stand on marijuana?

Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
3/7/2019


RIVERHEAD—The Suffolk County Legislature took public comments from residents during its health committee agenda, on Tuesday, March 5, where they discussed a bill that looks to prohibit the retail sale of marijuana in Suffolk County, should the drug become legalized for recreational use statewide. 

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Smithtown), a retired detective with the Suffolk County Police Department, proposed the bill in January. The move came shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would push to legalize recreational marijuana in New York State within the first 100 days of his third term. 

“It used to be that organized crime controlled gambling and drugs, and now it’s the government who wants to use it as a revenue source, and this is just wrong,” Trotta said during the bill’s initial proposal. “The government should control spending and stay out of the drug business.” 

Trotta, who briefly considered jumping into this year’s race for county executive, calls marijuana a “gateway drug” in the bill. The proposal goes on to say that marijuana, which “serves as an introduction to drug culture and can lead to the use and abuse of other substances,” is particularly dangerous for adolescents under the age of 25 because their brains are still developing.

Violators of the proposed Suffolk ban would be charged with an unclassified misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in prison. The bill does not apply to medical marijuana. 

Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Hauppauge) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) have cosponsored the resolution, which also expresses concern that marijuana impairs one’s ability to operate a motor vehicle. 

Numerous speakers earlier this week mirrored the points made in the bill. 

Susan Skura, a mother of four from Bayport, encouraged officials to enact the sales ban. Skura said both of her sons have struggled with drug addiction for years. She sees smoking marijuana from a young age as the common factor. 

One son is currently incarcerated due to his struggle with drugs, while the second lives in California, where recreational marijuana is legal. Skura said her second son, who she believes has started using heroin, previously lived in Colorado, where recreational cannabis is also legal. She noted that while visiting Colorado, she saw the “devastation” caused by marijuana’s legalization. 

Skura also stated that she has seen many children in the Bayport-Blue Point community die from hard drugs. Like her sons, she said they began by smoking marijuana. 

Angela Huneault, a Southampton resident, also supports the ban. Huneault said she has seen the negative effects of prolonged marijuana use in people suffering from memory loss and various psychiatric disorders. 

Presiding officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Wyandanch) asked the speaker if she sees any positive aspects coming from legalization. Gregory referred to the argument that minorities are more likely to be arrested and charged for drug possession, despite using drugs at the same rate as non-minorities. He went on to say that legalization could potentially cut down on drug arrests that have long-term negative consequences, particularly for minorities. 

Huneault responded by saying the ethnicity of someone charged with possession shouldn’t matter, one way or the other. 

Susan Reeve, on the other hand, hopes Suffolk doesn’t enact the ban. Reeve said she worked in the medical field for years and insists that the “death and destruction” she saw during that time came from alcohol, not marijuana. Reeve also admitted to using marijuana for decades. During this time, she has had dozens of surgeries. She also has knee surgery coming up in the near future. “I’m not on painkillers because I smoke weed,” she said. 

Trotta took this opportunity to ask where Reeve gets her marijuana. “Around,” she said. The response was met with laughter from legislators and attendees alike. 

Trotta pointed out that the price Reeve and other users pay for marijuana would likely go up in a retail setting after recreational use is legalized. “You’re advocating for paying more,” he said. Reeve admitted the price would likely go up, but insisted she doesn’t mind because she knows the product will be regulated. 

At one point in the meeting, Gregory pointed out that the ban doesn’t make possession illegal. He also said it was a possibility that Nassau County could ban the sale as well. This, Gregory said, could result in marijuana continuing to be sold on the black market throughout Long Island. He also asked one of the speakers who was in favor of its legalization, Mary Mulcahy, what users might do as a result of an island-wide ban. 

“People will continue using illegal connections,” Mulcahy said, adding that she personally would travel to New York City to make her purchases. “It’s only two hours away.” 

Abigail Field, a mother and Cutchogue-based lawyer, believes marijuana should be seen as a vice, like alcohol or tobacco. Field also said children can easily spot hypocrisy when it comes to society’s negative views on marijuana. 

Legis. Susan Berland (D-Commack) weighed in on Field’s hypocrisy comment. Berland, a mother of four, gave her belief that legalizing recreational marijuana could be seen as the “height of hypocrisy,” particularly from a child’s point of view, because one day it would go from being illegal to legal. Field disagreed with this view, adding that the law is only now starting to “catch up with reality.” 

David Falkowski, a farmer based in Bridgehampton, called the bill “premature” and asked county officials to hold off on proposing marijuana-based legislation until Albany releases a more comprehensive plan. After the meeting, Falkowski expressed concern that the bill would ban the sale of all hemp-related products. He also questioned whether the Poospatuck (Mastic) and Shinnecock (Southampton) Indian reservations would become the “de facto dispensaries” on Long Island. 

The New York State Department of Health issued a report last year that estimates a legal marijuana market in New York State would be worth between $1.7 billion and 43.5 billion per year. The study, which was initiated by Cuomo, also found that this market could generate anywhere between $248 million and $677 million in annual tax revenue for the state. 

It was reported shortly after Trotta proposed the ban that Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone hadn’t yet taken a position on the issue. This publication more recently reached out to Bellone’s office for an update on his stance, but didn’t receive a comment by press time. 

County legislators held a public hearing last month in Hauppauge, where they took comments on the state’s proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. This publication covered that hearing in the article “Legal marijuana in question,” published on Feb. 28, 2019, and determined that the majority of the 50-plus speakers that evening supported legalization of recreational cannabis.