Riverhead Town Board Rejects Bid to Opt Out of Pot Sales

A man smokes a hybrid strain joint of cannabis at his home in New York
A man smokes a hybrid strain joint of cannabis at his home in New York, U.S. April 1, 2021. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Wednesday to legalize adult use of marijuana, making it the 15th U.S. state to allow recreational use of the drug. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The Riverhead Town Board voted down Wednesday a proposal to opt out of allowing recently legalized recreational marijuana to be sold and consumed at pot shops and cannabis cafés.

The measure was rejected by a vote of 3 to 2 following weeks of debate surrounding the issue, meaning pot sales will be allowed once retailers get the go ahead next year. Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Councilman Kenneth Rothwell both voted for opting out while voting against were Councilmen Frank Beyrodt and Timothy Hubbard and Councilwoman Catherine Kent, the lone Democrat on the Republican-majority board.

“I respect my colleagues’ decision to vote to allow the retail sale and café use of marijuana,” Aguiar said. “However, I am voting yes to prohibit cannabis retail dispensaries and on-site consumption sites … until we have better clarification of the New York State legislation.”

The state legalized marijuana in March, but towns and villages have until December 31 to decide whether to opt out of allowing sales or on-site consumption in their communities. But since the neighboring Shinnecock Indian Nation announced plans to open a dispensary in Southampton this year, and the tribe is not bound by town laws, some, especially Town of Southampton leaders, have questioned whether opting out would be effective.

The Town of Shelter Island passed a measure in May opting out of sales and on-site consumption of marijuana. Shelter Island officials said that passing a weed sales ban now will give the public a chance to petition for a referendum on the question in time for Election Day, as is allowed under the new law. Some of the 10 East End villages, including Quogue and Westhampton Beach, have also debated opt-out legislation. 

“Consumption should be in the confines of a private property and not in a public space,” Rothwell said while joining Aguiar in voting for the opt out in Riverhead. They also questioned whether marijuana sales tax revenue projections would materialize, how police would enforce laws against driving while high on marijuana and the impact on local children.

Beyrodt said allowing legalized pot would help stem criminal sales of marijuana.

“If we don’t regulate this, the black market in the Town of Riverhead is going to thrive,” he said.

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