Members of the Riverhead CAP Youth Coalition yesterday spoke to the town board about the group's views on local marijuana rules and the role the town should take to help prevent use of the drug by the community's youth. Pictured, from left: Alexandra Santoro, Adrianna Mosca, Councilwoman Catherine Kent, Tifany Perez, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, Councilman Tim Hubbard, Councilman Ken Rothwell and Cameron Rothwell.Photo: Alek Lewis

The town should use its zoning powers to make sure marijuana dispensaries and lounges are located away from places where youth are most likely to congregate and actively work to educate people about the particular dangers of marijuana use by youth, members of the Riverhead CAP Youth Coalition told the Riverhead Town Board yesterday.

With marijuana now legal in New York for adults 21 and older, and the local ability to opt out of retail sales and lounges off the table, the town board must now turn its attention to regulating the “time, place and manner” of the operation of state-licensed dispensaries and lounges — as the state law enacted in March allows.

The town board plans to create a task force to advise the town on code changes related to marijuana, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar told CAP representatives yesterday. She invited members of the coalition to participate.

Four CAP Youth Coalition members, all high school students, yesterday presented suggestions and practices for preventing youth access to marijuana.

“Marijuana is already used among kid audiences and in Riverhead and seeing the problem become worse is the last thing you would want,” said said Alexandra Santoro. “So ultimately, today we want to share our concerns and how we can make sure our community remains safe as marijuana use comes into play here.”

A focus of the coalition’s efforts were environmental prevention, which are focused on changing community conditions, institutions, systems and policies to prevent drug abuse, according to the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. “Often this entails forming relationships with law enforcement, businesses, government, government authorities and other sectors to reduce access to these substances,” Santoro said.

Cameron Rothwell, son of Councilman Ken Rothwell, said the town can conduct environmental scans, which includes identifying advertisement and product placement directed at youth in the community, to help find potential problems to address through town policy.

“We would like to create friendly relationships with store owners to better understand town codes and come to agreements that better our community,” Cameron said. “Many towns and villages surrounding the Town of Riverhead have been very effective in keeping advertising to a minimum and creating a better community overall.”

Tifany Perez said the town needs to consider places that are more likely to have youth, including schools, daycare facilities, houses of worship, playgrounds and beaches when considering where to approve use.

Tifany also said the town can create signs and announcements, in both English and Spanish, to help inform the population on the laws and regulations regarding marijuana use in the community. She wants the town to make sure relevant stakeholders in the community are properly informed and trained .

The coalition also presented information on the potential effect marijuana could have on youth. The human brain doesn’t stop developing until age 25 and studies have shown a link between decreased cognitive performance with youth using marijuana, said Adrianna Mosca.

Adrianna also said marijuana can be addictive, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says although users can become dependent on marijuana and develop marijuana-use disorder, the drug does not have inherent addictive properties. Studies do suggest, however, that people who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are more likely to develop a marijuana-use disorder than adults, according to the CDC.

“Like alcohol, marijuana may be legal, but it’s always unhealthy and unsafe for youth,” Adrianna said. “Even though people will have to be 21 to buy marijuana, kids will still be able to get it, just like they do with alcohol.”

The coalition did not present any potential positive effects of marijuana consumption. The discussion was focused on youth use and not on medicinal or adult recreational use.

Established by the Riverhead Community Awareness Program in 2015, the youth coalition “works in the community to plan and implement environmental strategies to prevent or reduce youth substance use within the town of Riverhead,” according to Community Prevention Specialist Kelly Miloski.

Other members of CAP in the room included Executive Director Felicia Scocozza and Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, who is the organization’s vice president of their board of directors.

“We’re gonna start reaching out to people. We have to change town code, we have to develop code, we have to evolve the entire community and I think that you guys will definitely be a great asset to the committee,” Aguiar said.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.