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Town seeks public input on retail marijuana sales with new online survey

The Riverhead Town Board has launched an online survey to see if residents are for or against the retail sale of marijuana in the town, as well as whether to allow on-site consumption of marijuana. 

The survey can be found by clicking here.

The town is seeking comments and opinions regarding the sale of marijuana at designated retail stores, and the use of marijuana at cafes and lounges.

The state passed a law on March 31 legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, but that law gives cities, towns and villages the option of opting out of allowing adult-use marijuana retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by Dec. 31, or nine months after the effective date of the legislation.

They cannot opt-out of allowing the adult use of marijuana in general. 

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the town doesn’t have as much time to decide as board members initially thought when discussing the issue at last week’s work session.

The parts of the legislation dealing with retail sales and on-site consumption are subject to a what’s known as a permissive referendum. 

This means that within 45 days of the enactment of the local law, if a petition opposing those provisions is submitted by 10% of the registered voters in the last gubernatorial election then a public vote can be set, according to deputy town attorney Anne Marie Prudenti. The vote would take place either at a special election or at the next general election. 

Because of this, there needs to be time to publish and post a notice of the permissive referendum.

The Town Board discussed the issue at its work session Thursday. 

Councilman Tim Hubbard said the board wants to hear the public’s input. He asked if the Town Board could directly schedule a hearing on the issue without having to go through a permissive referendum. 

Ms. Prudenti said it cannot. 

She said the law doesn’t support the scheduling of a mandatory referendum.

If the town were to opt out of allowing retail sales or on-site consumption of marijuana, it also would lose on revenue, as the law allows 3% of the tax revenue generated from marijuana sales.

Mr. Hubbard said he supports the survey. 

“Having a broad general survey for everyone to give input is the most effective method, given such a short timeline,” Councilman Frank Beyrodt said.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent suggested the board bring in some “stakeholders” at next week’s work session to discuss it further. She suggested the Community Awareness Program (CAP) and the town’s agricultural committee.

Mr. Beyrodt said the agricultural community is happy with the law the way it is.

Ms. Aguiar said the town needs to act quickly. “We have a short time frame and a big decision to make,” she said. 

She said an online survey is the most effective means of getting public opinion. 

Ms. Kent said she supports the survey, but doesn’t think any harm will be done by discussing the issue further at a work session.

Ms. Aguiar said she met with a representative of the governor’s office and with the Suffolk town supervisors Thursday.

She said one question she had, which the governor’s office was unable to answer, is whether the town will lose funding if it opts out of retail sales but not on-site consumption, or vice versa. 

Ms. Aguiar said that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but it would be up to the federal government to take action on whether to enforce that law.