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Riverhead CAP offers Town Board suggestions as it weighs decision on marijuana

While the Riverhead Town Board hasn’t decided whether it will opt out of portions of a new state law allowing retail sale of marijuana and on-site consumption in places like cafes and lounges, the Riverhead Community Awareness Program had some suggestions for the town on how to keep marijuana away from children.

CAP executive director Felicia Scocozza and community prevention specialist Kelly Miloski made a presentation at the Town Board’s work session Thursday. 

“Marijuana legalization is a complex issue and we agree that opting in or out of retail and on-site consumption should be based on what the community members and the stakeholders want,” Ms. Scocozza said. 

The state law legalizing marijuana only allows municipalities to opt out of retail sales and on-site consumption by Dec. 31. Marijuana otherwise is legal in New York State for recreational purposes.

“This Town Board will shape the face of Riverhead for years to come, and it has through zoning and code enforcement to establish best practices now,” Ms. Scocozza said.

The new law allows anyone age 21 or older to possess up to three ounces of marijuana. And municipalities that opt-out also lose out on the 3% tax revenue generated by the marijuana sales. 

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the law currently allows smoking marijuana anywhere it allows smoking cigarettes. 

A proposal by CAP outlining best practices broke down into categories: 

• Location where sale and/or consumption can take place.

• Marketing of marijuana that doesn’t target youth.

• Clerk training that focuses on ID checking and understanding marijuana laws.

• Enforcement and compliance to apply consistently with alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes and vape-free areas areas at parks and beaches with clear signage.

• Include marijuana, tobacco and vape restrictions in town policies for alcohol use at public events.

Ms. Miloski said the town should prohibit signage and advertisements that target youth. 

“That’s a common strategy that these industries use because if they hook younger people, they have lifelong customers,” she said. 

Ms. Scocozza said a 2018 youth survey in Riverhead found that more than 30% of the 12th graders had used marijuana in the past 30 days, which, she said, is a “very high” number.

When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, the use rate among 12-to-17-year olds went up by 43% for the prior 30 days. 

“So we really need to be mindful of that, and of how can we prevent youth access,” she said. 

Ms. Scocozza said the town can determine where retail sites and on-site consumption sites can be located and how many of them there should be. It also can determine “family friendly” areas where marijuana is not permitted, such as in proximity to schools, day care facilities, churches, beaches, playgrounds and parks.  

She said CAP has funding that can be used to establish many of the best practices, although that funding runs out in 2023.

Ms. Aguiar said that if the town opts out on the retail and on-site consumption portions of the law, it still will have to comply with the other components of the law. She said the board will address the results of the study. Ms. Aguiar said she also is forming a committee to make changes the Town Code as it applies to marijuana, and she invited CAP to be part of it.

The town initiated an online survey about marijuana use and that survey will run through Sunday.