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Riverhead to allow retail marijuana, on-site consumption following split vote Wednesday

Retail sales of marijuana and public on-site consumption will be allowed in Riverhead Town.

After more than three months of debate following the state legislation legalizing marijuana, the Riverhead Town Board voted against a resolution Wednesday to opt out. The resolution was rejected by a 3-2 vote.

Councilmen Tim Hubbard, Frank Beyrodt and Councilwoman Catherine Kent voted against the resolution. Councilman Ken Rothwell and Supervisor Yvette Aguiar voted in favor and to opt out.

Each board member outlined their reasoning prior to casting the vote, beginning with Mr. Rothwell, who urged his fellow board members to vote yes and opt out. He raised concerns about law enforcement’s ability to detect a driver impaired by marijuana, questioned whether the town would see revenue from the retail sales and said Riverhead should observe how neighboring towns handle it first.

Mr. Hubbard called it one of the “more controversial decisions” he’s had to make during his tenure. He referenced how many of the concerns raised about the medical marijuana dispensary in Riverhead several years that never panned out.

Ms. Aguiar said the Town Board was flooded with calls Wednesday urging them to opt out.

“Marijuana use does not belong in downtown Riverhead or anywhere near downtown and I want to make really clear,” she said.

Mr. Beyrodt and Ms. Kent both cited the survey results that showed a majority of residents were in favor of the town not opting out.

While the state imposed deadline to opt out is not until Dec. 31, the town faced a more accelerated timeline. Had they approved the opt out, that would have started a 45-day period to see if anyone challenged their decision via a permissive referendum, which would mean that a townwide vote be held at least 60 prior to Election Day. To have a permissive referendum, a petition opposing those provisions would have to be submitted by 10% of the registered voters in the last gubernatorial election.

By effectively opting in, the Town Board can regulate where marijuana can be used in the town through zoning and will be on the receiving end of the 3% sale tax revenue.

The state law did not allow the town to separate the retail sale component and on-site consumption into two separate votes.

Several speakers urged the Town Board to opt out prior to the vote Wednesday and said the Town Board should allow the decision to come to a public vote.

“I’m just asking you to slow down,” said Jim Flood of Aquebogue, a retired Nassau County police officer, who got into a heated exchange with Mr. Beyrodt.

*This story will be updated with additional comment from the meeting.