The proposed advisory committee will help the town craft policy on where retail marijuana dispensaries and cafés can be located and their hours of operation. Photo: Adobe Stock

Potential restrictions on marijuana retail stores and on-site consumption lounges were on the agenda for the first meeting of Riverhead Town’s marijuana advisory committee Tuesday evening. 

The two-hour meeting brought together interested residents, potential business stakeholders and town employees to discuss the first steps of implementing the new state law that legalized marijuana retail shops and lounges and gave municipalities the power to put in place “time, place and manner” restrictions for them.

Regulations and licenses for marijuana businesses are set by the newly established Office of Cannabis Management and its Cannabis Control Board. Although adult-use business licenses are not yet being issued by the state, Councilman Ken Rothwell, who was tasked by Supervisor Yvette Aguiar to lead the advisory committee, said the town board wants a draft of proposed marijuana restrictions ready by the middle of 2022 in preparation for new businesses proposals.

“We want you guys to have an insight and be a part of the whole process, so that it’s not just like waiting at a town board meeting and what suddenly is going to be presented before everybody,” Rothwell said to the small audience at the meeting.

Possible locations of marijuana dispensaries and lounges drew the most attention and discussion. The sites must be 500 feet away from school property, and 200 feet away from houses of worship, according to the law. Advertising for cannabis businesses must be also 500 feet from school property, houses of worship, childcare providers, playgrounds, public parks and libraries. 

“If we all see a particular area that is really intense with public parks, day schools, we may want to, quote, restrict or limit those areas and not permit them,” Deputy Town Attorney Annemarie Prudenti said.

The committee agreed it will meet in January to review and discuss two annotated maps of Riverhead depicting uses designated by the law — school properties, childcare providers, houses of worship, public parks, playgrounds and libraries— one map showing areas within 500 feet of those uses and another map showing areas within 1,000 feet. Prudenti said in researching other states that have adopted adult-use marijuana laws, she found the most common regulation by local governments was a 1,000-foot setback. 

The committee also discussed whether the town should restrict marijuana sales around popular family attractions like Splish Splash, the Long Island Aquarium and the Long Island Science Center planned for the new town square. Those locations will also be considered on the maps.

The consideration setbacks from certain types of properties is separate from the issue of determining which zoning use districts should be amended to allow marijuana retail shops and lounges as permitted uses. Zoning was not discussed at length during the meeting.

Prudenti said the “manner” restrictions include security requirements, odor and ventilation requirements and waste disposal requirements. Those were not discussed at length during the meeting.

In terms of “time” restrictions, Prudenti said other states allow retail businesses to be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.. Those in attendance said those hours were reasonable. They also discussed a potential “blue law” to restrict hours for Sunday. 

Most of the members named to the advisory committee attended the meeting and shared their thoughts throughout the discussion, including Riverhead Central School District’s security and safety chief Terry Culhane.

Members of the audience included South Fork resident David Falkowski, president of the Open Minded Organics, a grower and processor of hemp extracts and the Long Island community chairman for the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, and Lee Mendelson, an East End lawyer and co-founder of Phyto-Farma Labs, a cannabis testing laboratory.

After the “Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act” was signed into law on Mar. 31, municipalities were given the opportunity to opt-out of allowing retail sales and on-site consumption. The town conducted an online survey in which over 73% of the 1,408 respondents favored allowing retail sales in Riverhead. The town board then held a public hearing on a proposed opt-out law. The board later rejected the opt-out law in a 3-2 vote July 7, with Aguiar and Rothwell in support of opting out.

Other local municipalities split on opting out

On the East End, the towns of Shelter Island and East Hampton and several villages— including the villages of Greenport, Westhampton Beach, Quogue, Southampton and East Hampton — have already passed opt-out laws.

The Town of Southold has a public hearing scheduled Dec. 14 to consider a proposed opt-out law.

An opt-out law is subject to a referendum by petition. Residents opposed to the opt-out law can force a referendum vote on it by filing a petition within 45 days of the law’s effective date. The opt-out laws passed by the Village of Greenport on Nov. 29 and the Town of East Hampton on Dec. 2 are still within the 45-day time period for a challenge.

The Town of Southampton is not considering an opt-out law. The Shinnecock Nation is already making plans for retail sales on its territory within the town.

Brookhaven Town is not opting out, but has acted to restrict marijuana sales and smoking lounges to industrial districts. In August Brookhaven Town adopted a zoning code amendment to allow retail marijuana sales by special permit in industrial districts and to allow smoking lounges as special permit accessory uses to a retail sales establishment. The Brookhaven code prohibits retail sales establishments and smoking lounges within a 500-foot radius of any residence or residential zone, within a one-mile radius of any other marijuana retail shop, and within 1,000 feet of the lot line of any school, place of worship, playground, playing field, library, hospital or similar public space, or any “non-degree-granting” instruction programs, such as self-defense, dance, swimming, gymnastics or other sports.

Municipalities that allow marijuana retail sales and smoking lounges will gain tax revenue from the sales. The state law establishes a 13% tax on the sale of recreational marijuana products. Towns that allow the sales will receive 3% of the taxes collected.

Denise Civiletti contributed to this story.

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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. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com