No Toking Over The Town Line

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North Hempstead to regulate medical marijuana; mulls ban on pot use

Jim McHugh of New Hyde Park, who works as a registered pharmacist at Jamaica Hospital, was one of the speakers at the Oct. 25 town board meeting who believed that New York State was all set to legalize recreational marijuana use. (Photos by Frank Rizzo)

The Town of North Hempstead is exploring the possibility of banning the sale of recreational marijuana within its jurisdiction.

Smoking weed is not yet legal in New York (which does allow medical marijuana), but Governor Andrew Cuomo seems to be pointing the state in that direction.

Or at least, such was the sentiment of most speakers at the Oct. 25 town board meeting,

What started as a public hearing to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries took an unexpected direction in the course of the evening.

The town board unanimously approved resolutions to hold public hearings on Nov. 20. on two proposed laws. One would prohibit medical marijuana facilities from selling recreational pot should legalization come to pass. The other would restrict where such medical dispensaries could be located.

On Nov. 20, the board voted to pass a law banning dispensaries from selling recreational marijuana. A second law, to be voted on Dec. 18, would use zoning to restrict where the dispensaries could be placed.

Councilwoman Dina DiGiorgio, flanked by colleague Lee Seeman (left), make her case for banning the sale of recreational marijuana in the town.

Also that night, a public hearing date was set for Jan. 8 to discuss banning the sale of recreational marijuana.

The hearing delays were necessary because the proposals needed to be reviewed by the Nassau County Planning Commission.

Supervisor Judi Bosworth said regulating these pseudo-pharmacies was necessary to keep them away from residences, schools, places of worship, day care centers, playgrounds and the like.

“This is bipartisan legislation,” the supervisor said. “This is something that will be offered by every one of the councilmembers and myself.”

Bosworth wondered why her town, with just 17 percent of Nassau’s 1.3 million residents, should be home to one existing and one proposed medical marijuana outlets.

The active dispensary is located in a medical office building on Marcus Avenue in Lake Success, near the Long Island Jewish Hospital complex. It is operated by Medmen, whose flagship store on Fifth Avenue in NYC, one speaker noted, already has taken on the aspects of a glossy retail outlet.

The firm Curaleaf is readying a facility on Old Country Road in Carle Place. No opening date has been set for this dispensary.

Neither Medmen nor Curaleaf responded to requests for comments about the proposed legislation.

Medical To Legal

Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio said she has studied what other municipalities in states where marijuana is legal have done, and concluded, “They were amending their zoning codes in the same way we’re doing tonight.”

De Giorgio went on to say: “The reality is, Medmen and its competitors don’t really care about medical marijuana (applause)…medical marijuana is a smokescreen to be able sell marijuana for recreational use.”

She said what other speakers would echo that evening: Medmen wanted to secure itself a “prime” retail location. Thus, the firm had applied to move to a freestanding store in Manhasset’s shopping district.

De Georgio said the state had strongly signaled that legalization was on the horizon. She then expressed her strong opposition, and asserted, “I think we should completely ban the sale of recreational marijuana.”

When the applause had died down, De Giorgio added, “I think we can do it. It’s illegal under federal law. And I think it’s perfectly permissible for local municipalities to say, ‘We don’t want you to sell recreational marijuana anywhere in our community.’ ”

She noted that the state legislature begins its session in January, and the town should move quickly before legalization was passed. The councilwoman envisioned a retail landscape in which convenience and gas station stores and other outlets might clamor for and win the right to sell marijuana.

She acknowledged that such a ban was not on the agenda that night, but it is a direction that the town leadership should consider.

Pureleaf (now Curaleaf) in Carle Place came to the town in January, “and at that point nobody could have imagined the pace with which New York would move to legalize recreational marijuana,” De Giorgio said.

“I’m happy that we’re one of the first towns in the state of New York to take this issue head-on. We’re leading in a lot of ways, and I’m glad that we’re leading in this way.”

Sarah Adams of Plandome was one of the more passionate speakers at the meeting.

Later, after Plandome resident Sarah Adams expressed skepticism about the entire board’s commitment to the idea of a ban, Bosworth pushed back, and assured her, “I have asked the town attorney to draft legislation that would in fact make it impossible for recreational marijuana to be sold in the Town of North Hempstead.”

Adams replied, “You should have done this before letting Medmen come into the community.”

Bosworth heatedly replied: “I didn’t let Medmen come into the community. This is what’s frustrating. This is a state law that [allows] medical marijuana in a community. We didn’t pick the location. We didn’t pick the company. The state did that.”

Adams, one of the more assertive speakers, stated, “I don’t want a band-aid. No one in this community wants some band-aid. I applaud Dina [De Giorgio]. She said what we’re all thinking. This is illegal in the United States of America. Cuomo may think he can usurp the whole government, but he cannot. [Marijuana] remains illegal, both medical and recreational, in federal government law.”

Councilwoman Anna Kaplan made a stand against legalizing recreational marijuana.

Adams turned to Councilwoman Anna Kaplan and asked if she would vote against legalization of marijuana once she’s in the state Senate. Kaplan pointed out she was not in the legislature yet, and suggested that Adams ask her opponent, incumbent Elaine Phillips (R-7th District ). Kaplan subsequently defeated Phillips in the recent election.

“[Phillips and the state legislature are] responsible for what we’re dealing with right now,” Kaplan charged. “If that [medical marijuana] legislation was drawn up better, towns would not have to do Chianges to their zoning.”

Adams said she’s read how communities and states where recreational marijuana is legal are making efforts to ban sales.

Bosworth agreed with Kaplan that the state needed to do a better job of crafting the legislation.

Before, De Georgio had observed, “If we ban it now outright, and we don’t let anyone sell it, I guarantee Medmen will not want to [leave Lake Success] and rent a high-profile retail location. If they can’t sell it, they’ll have to go somewhere else.”

Change Of Address

Medmen wants to move to 1575 Northern Blvd. in Manhasset, currently occupied by Sleep Number. A rep for the custom bedding retailer told Anton Media Group that the store’s lease will be up at the end of March, and it will close then.

Christine Lu is a member of the Asian American Advisory Board. She supported the town’s efforts to limit where medical marijuana facilities could be located.

“The way it was originally proposed, as a medical office, we think is fine,” said Bosworth. “But what seems to be happening now is that the concept seems to be changing—and I don’t know how you sell this medical marijuana in a retail environment. That’s not okay.”

“Someone asked, ‘What about Carle Place? Why didn’t you raise these issues when [the dispensary] was being proposed [there]?’ But, at that point, Pureleaf (now operating as Curaleaf) was not [talking] retail. When the Carle Place facility gets its certificate of occupancy it [will be listed] for medical office use. [If it violates that], then it would be closed. We’re going to make sure that any facility that [opens] here will be carefully monitored.”

Kaplan said her office had received a lot of emails and phone calls about Medmen’s possible move.

“Your voices have been heard,” she told the audience, adding that she supported medically prescribed marijuana.

“I believe the clustering of facilities in North Hempstead may negatively impact the residents,” she went on. “There is the distinct possibility that dispensaries might become retail storefronts in the future. I understand and share our residents’ concerns. New York State law makes it clear that if dispensaries conform to zoning regulations, they must be allowed.”

Consumer Friendly?

The supervisor contacted the New York State Department of Health (DOH), which chooses and licenses legal marijuana firms. Her letter to Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker asked why her town was attracting such businesses.

Bosworth’s missive drew a response in the form of a conference phone call from DOH reps.

It was during this phone call that she learned of Medmen’s proposal to change locations. As she related to the audience, the existing Lake Success dispensary had opened within the year, had ample parking, access to highways and was close to medical offices, including the sort whose patients might seek the relief only the pills and gels containing compounds derived from cannabis might offer.

DOH reps told Bosworth, “They [Medmen] need better access.”

She went on to describe a frustrating conversation with state officials who were in essence pleading Medmen’s case, including a parking lot that was too big (forcing some patients to walk farther than they were able to) and the need to use an elevator. Bosworth pointed out to them that there was free valet parking on site, and the building was ADA complaint, so the elevator could accommodate wheelchairs.

“I finally hit the roof,” Bosworth admitted, “and said, ‘I just don’t understand why you are permitting a facility that has just opened, that fits all the requirements for a medical marijuana facility office—which is how it was explained to us—why would you allow them to close, [only] to open on Northern Boulevard, in a storefront?’ ”

The supervisor also informed the DOH that the proposed freestanding store eyed by Medmen would lack the necessary parking spaces for a medical facility, and there was no guarantee that the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) would grant the necessary variances.

Bosworth reiterated—for those who believed the town board had powers over the ZBA—that the latter, by state law, operated independently.

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth has directed the town attorney to research the possibility of a ban on the sale of recreational marijuana within the town—should the state make legalization a reality.

Bosworth made note of a published quote from Medmen’s Daniel Yi, vice president of corporate communications, talking about the Manhasset location’s potential to give customers a better retail experience. The supervisor told DOH officials, “[Medmen] may want to mainstream marijuana, we don’t. If you think these facilities are just going to morph into recreational distribution centers you’re going to have a big fight on your hands. So tonight, we’re taking this into our hands. We’re regulating by what we are permitted by law to regulate.”

She added, “Because even if you do something that you think might be challenged, you have to go ahead do that. And if we’re facing a lawsuit because of that, I say ‘bring it on’,” to applause and cheers.

“There’s something really wrong with this,” Bosworth told the DOH reps, who promised to discuss the matter internally and get back to her. Bosworth said that three follow-up calls to the DOH were not yet returned.

The supervisor emphasized that, “I support the use of medical marijuana, especially for those suffering from serious medical conditions.”

The People Speak

Richard Bentley of Manhasset stated, “It’s not a matter of being for or against medical marijuana—it’s a matter of where these facilities are [located]. They’re in our neighborhoods and they do affect our quality of life.”

Richard Bentley of Manhasset was resolutely opposed to placing medical marijuana facilities near residential areas.

He pointed out that the proposed Medmen facility on Northern Boulevard “is immediately accessible to the residential homes at its back end. It’s not the place for it.”

Bosworth said the state had heard from the town. Maybe it was time for state politicians to hear from the residents.

Replied Bentley, “Exactly. We have little faith that the state can limit the legalization of marijuana and control who it gets to.”

Chris Roberts lives on Rolling Hill Road, 50 ft behind the property line of the current Sleep Number store.

She told the room that she had undergone cancer treatment four years ago and her oncologist, surgeon and radiologist were all located in Lake Success.

“I can’t imagine a more convenient location had I needed medical marijuana—I was fortunate not to need it,” Roberts said.

She discounted the argument that Medmen needed a better location and related the sad tale of her best friend’s son, who suffered from OCD and turned to readily available marijuana to help him cope. Later, he graduated to harder drugs and his life has taken a bad turn and this has been devastating for his family.

Roberts damned marijuana as a gateway drug and “we expect our elected officials to protect our children and our most vulnerable people.”

She urged the board, “Do the right thing. Let this be your legacy, I beg of you. Please take care of this for us (cheers, applause).”

David Chiang was the president of the Chinese American Association of North Hempstead.

“I’m here to speak on behalf of our community,” he said, revealing that he lives less than a mile from the proposed facility.

David Chiang is the president of the Chinese-American Association of North Hempstead. He echoed the views of other speakers that medical marijuana was a means for retailers to get into the market that really promised higher revenues—sale of recreational marijuana.

Chiang called the dispensary “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” with Medmen using medical marijuana as an opportunity to get their foot in the door so they can sell recreational marijuana when it becomes legal in New York State.

“I have three small children who attend Munsey Park Elementary School. I do not want them to see this type of facility on their bus ride to school,” he said, and presented a petition signed by 3,212 local residents.

“They don’t want this facility anywhere near our school, and anywhere our children gather,” Chiang observed. “As parents, we want to steer our kids away from these things. We don’t want them in our backyard.”

Bosworth assured him that the town leadership didn’t either.

Calling it a quality of life issue, Chiang said easily available recreational pot in Manhasset’s business district would lead to people buying it and getting high in the parking lots and driving down Northern Boulevard and LIE and the Northern State Parkway.

“Medical marijuana has its place. It just doesn’t need to be on Northern Boulevard,” Chiang concluded. “If you can stand up for our children, you’ll be examples for all of Long Island.”

Matthew Bendix of Port Washington called the proposed resolutions “a rational approach to zoning and limiting these facilities. I really don’t think we’re positioned to stop it from happening. As you stated before, the state has limited your ability; you just can’t zone them out of the community.”

Josie Bishop of Port Washington works as a school psychologist and sees first-hand the level of addiction that students are facing. She was disappointed that the town hadn’t taken action against e-cigarettes.

“I have children who are addicted to nicotine and I don’t think we understand how potent some of these e-cigarettes are,” Bishop said. “In relation to marijuana, we need to send a clear message to our children…That we do not agree that marijuana is a fun thing to do.”

She asked the town to consider a ban on recreational marijuana because “we have to send the message to our students in the schools of all the communities of North Hempstead. It’s a huge problem. You won’t believe how many children we are sending to treatment centers.”

Paul Ladopoulos of Manhasset is the former director of substance abuse at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Paul Ladopoulus of Manhasset formerly headed the substance abuse program at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He was suspicious of literature from a medical marijuana purveyor in the town that indicated that the firm was looking forward to selling recreational marijuana. He noted that in Colorado, the first state to legalize pot, vehicle accidents have risen significantly—and he had no doubt that there was a direct connection.

He said the most important thing in his life is that he’s a father of a middle school student and the safety issue was paramount.

“Quite honestly, I don’t believe there’s any need for having a dispensary here,” he remarked. “I work with people with different substance abuse issues and I could tell you it’s very easy for all my colleagues to write a script for medical marijuana. And those [patients] could come here and sell it on the street and sell it in the schools.”

Ladopoulos read from various pieces of Medmen literature which treated the shopping experience for medical marijuana as more in line with a slick retail outlet.

He brought up the issue of drug use and driving, claiming that fatal auto accidents have increased significantly in Colorado, the first state to legalize pot.

Ladopoulos asserted that he didn’t want the facility period—because a high percentage of people buying prescription products “are selling to the kids. It’s a fact.”

While Nicole Denker of Manhasset (also inset) speaks, Sabereh Samet, an aide to Councilwoman Anna Kaplan, looks on skeptically. Denker suggested that the councilwoman’s stated views on marijuana legalization (she was opposed) did not jibe with what she was told by a staffer in Kaplan’s office. Turned out, Denker had been speaking with a volunteer from Kaplan’s state senate campaign.

Nicole Denker of Manhasset read from a text of a conference call Medmen made with investors and said, “It’s clear that they’re looking to coming legalization so that they’re in this huge retail spot…and create an Apple [store] experience, if you will. They praised their real estate division for navigating zoning restriction to land prime retail locations.”

After mentioning places rented by the company in Las Vegas and California, she said it’s clear they’re taking large retail areas in anticipation of legalization.

“The key here is not medical marijuana, which I totally support and should be sold in appropriate spots,” Denker said.

Denker quizzed Kaplan, claiming that what she heard from the councilwoman’s office did not seem to jibe with the statement Kaplan made at the beginning of the meeting.

According to Denker, “Your office replied, ‘What’s the difference between selling marijuana and alcohol? We can sell alcohol anywhere.’ ”

After some further exchanges, it was clarified that the statement Denker quoted had come from a volunteer from Kaplan’s state Senate campaign office. There was a difference between Kaplan’s official position and what one of her campaign volunteers had expressed in a casual conversation.

Adams concluded, “Medical marijuana is a smokescreen. We all know it. It’s a waste of our time and energy and your time and energy. We’re talking about recreational marijuana, which is the clear purpose of Medmen, who is following the money because it’s a multibillion-dollar business.”

Jim McHugh of New Hyde Park is a registered pharmacist who works at Jamaica Hospital.

He brought up a recent state legislative committee hearing at which assemblymembers discussed openly the tax revenues to be realized from legalization of marijuana.

“Let’s not fool ourselves,” he said. “Our governor has come out and said,’We’re studying it…the pluses seem to outweigh the negatives.’ He made that statement to the press. Now, how do you do that if you’re still studying it? Unless you’re working toward the answer that you want, which is ‘Yes,’ you do want to pass [legalization].”

Bosworth hoped he was comforted by what he had heard that night. He was, but at the same time he was troubled by what he had heard at the political level at which the legalization decision would be made.

He had helped craft a questionnaire for area state legislature candidates and said it had been fairly straightforward: “‘Yes or No—how are you going to vote (on legalization) when you get to Albany?’ The voters and the citizens deserve a straight answer,” he concluded to applause.

Christine Liu of New Hyde Park said she was a member of the Asian American Advisory Board.

She had a question about the drafting of the legislation, wondering “if the zoning law could limit marijuana dispensaries to the medical complexes, of which they were many throughout the area. They would be out of view, with ample parking and our kids are not going to see it. And everybody who needs it could still get to it.”

Liu also asked about the facility on Glen Cove Road, noting that there were residences across the street.

De Giorgio replied, “That was the original objection from the Carle Place [Civic Association], that the state law didn’t prohibit facilities from being located near residences.”

Bosworth added that when a law is drafted, legislators don’t always realize its unintended consequences.

She wanted state legislators to revisit the medical marijuana law and put restrictions in it so that town councils do not have to deal with a law that is the antithesis of what the residents want.

Lou wondered if the Carle Place dispensary would be affected by the proposed regulations expected to pass on Nov. 20.

Bosworth replied that it had a certificate of occupancy (CO) good only for a medical office. So that if it was used for anything else, it would be in violation of the CO was not addressed and it would be closed. In such a scenario, if and when Curaleaf reapplied for a CO, then the new restrictions would apply.

Raymond Lee echoed other speakers in believing that the point of putting a medical marijuana dispensary on Northern Boulevard was to take advantage—if legalization passed—of the wealthy areas.

“The optics of this is totally absurd,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense at all. I don’t know why they’re doing this.”

De Giorgio again brought up the idea that the town was within its rights to propose a ban on marijuana sales, A practicing lawyer, the councilwoman noted that because it’s illegal per the federal government, the state cannot use the principle of pre-emption in any legal action.

“We heard the concerns of the community, and we stand with the residents on this issue,” Bosworth said.

A Pro Voice

The only one who spoke in favor of Medmen’s aims was Landon Dais, a lawyer and former political affairs and compliance manager at the firm.

Dais pointed out that an average of four people a day in New York died from opioid overdoses.

Landon Dais, a lawyer and former director of political affairs and compliance manager at Medmen—the firm operating a medicinal marijuana dispensary in Lake Success—was the only speaker in favor of legalization.

“Those opioids come from CVS and Walgreens and other pharmacy groups,” he said. “They are located on Northern Boulevard and near residential areas. However, there is no outcry, because it’s a pharmacy and it’s medicine. We’re not asking [pharmacies] to move into medical buildings.”

Dais claimed that “medical marijuana has shown with clear evidence that it helps people with tremendous medical conditions, [yet] we want to put [dispensaries] into [restricted] zoning or into industrial areas. As if it’s a scarlet letter.”

His own mother “is proud that the CBD (cannabidiol) she uses for the scars from her radiation treatments is unbelievably more effective than any medications. She has to be treated as a second-class citizen because the medication actually works.”

Dais made a plea to show compassion to those suffering and in need of cannabis-based meds, again making the comparison to opioids and stating, “people die everyday from overdosing and zero people in this nation have ever died from marijuana CBD or THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) overdoses.”

He added, “In today’s political climate we no longer go by science, and by facts, but by fear.”

In response, Bosworth pointed out that the DOH chose the site on Marcus Avenue, and it was an appropriate place for a dispensary. “That’s not a second-class anything. That’s a medical office,” she chided Dais.

Bosworth went on to say that there have been no concerns or complaints expressed by patients or people in the surrounding area. She repeated her questioning of the company’s proposed move.

Dais said his company realized that Nassau and Suffolk have the highest concentration of registered marijuana patients in the state.

“The majority of our patients come from Manhasset and Great Neck,” he revealed. “We’re moving a little closer to our patients (as murmurs of dissent rose). We wanted to be more convenient.”

As far as recreational marijuana, he emphasized that from a public safety standpoint, it was important to know where it comes from, how it’s grown, what pesticides are used on it.

De Giorgio, in disbelief: “You’re trying to produce healthy marijuana? What are you trying to say?”

Dais said that cases of fentanyl and other contaminants have been found. New York State uses 35 metric tons of marijuana, he claimed, more than any other state. Therefore, from a public health standpoint, Medmen has an opportunity to make the product safer.

Bosworth reminded him that medical marijuana was the issue and the discussion was about the company wanting to move from Lake Success to Manhasset.

Dais finally said the first thing that the crowd agreed with: “Based on community feedback, we are revisiting our plans and reviewing our options.”

De Georgio gave Dais credit for coming down and saying what he did, knowing he would not be well received.

“I don’t want to stigmatize people who use medical marijuana. We want to be very supportive,” she said. “Those people are suffering from serious illnesses, and if they get relief from medical marijuana, they should be allowed to use it and we should not make it difficult or uncomfortable for them to obtain it.”

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Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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