Education

Riverhead Youth Coalition encourages Town Board to think about ways to prevent marijuana use among teens

Marijuana had already been a key focal point for the Riverhead Youth Coalition in its mission to prevent alcohol and drug use among teens in Riverhead. The recent state legislation that legalized marijuana for those 21 and over, as well as Riverhead Town’s recent vote to not opt out of retail sales and on-site consumption, only further emphasized marijuana as part of the group’s mission.

Members of the youth coalition, which operates under the nonprofit Riverhead Community Awareness Program, presented the Town Board best practice recommendations and ways to limit marijuana’s use among youth at Thursday’s work session.

“We are here because marijuana is becoming a hot topic in our community,” said Alexandra Santoro, who will be going into 10th grade this fall. “The legalization of marijuana in some states remains a controversial issue and there continues to be a lot of debate about whether or not marijuana is harmful to one’s health.”

Riverhead students in the coalition encouraged the Town Board to think about laws and policies that will prevent youth access to marijuana.

“Like alcohol, marijuana may be legal but it is always unhealthy and unsafe for youth,” said Adrianna Mosca, who will be going into her freshman year at Riverhead. “Even though people will have to be 21 to buy marijuana, kids will still be able to get it, just like they do with alcohol.”

Tifany Perez, who will be a sophomore, outlined several best practices, such as considering where on-site consumption can be allowed with consideration to schools, daycares, parks, beaches and other family areas. She also encouraged establishing “clear family-friendly zones” that would prohibit alcohol, tobacco, vaping and marijuana use.

And she spoke about marketing and advertising, saying restrictions should be set that would restrict advertising that’s focused on giveaways and samples.

Requiring signage that communicates laws to marijuana sales and use should be done in both English and Spanish, she added. Training requirements should also be established for anyone serving or selling marijuana at retail and on-site locations.

“Training should focus on identification checking and understanding of local and state marijuana laws,” Tifany said. “With enforcement and compliance, we can enforce the social host law,” she said.

Town Board officials join the Riverhead Youth Coalition members for a photo at Thursday’s work session. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

The Suffolk County social host law allows anyone 18 or older to face charges for knowingly allowing consumption of alcohol by a minor at a private residence.

Tifany said increasing awareness of the Riverhead Police Department’s tip line would also encourage community members to call with issues of non-compliance of marijuana. Signage that communicates town policy can also be implemented for public events.

Cameron Rothwell, the son of Councilman Ken Rothwell, talked about environmental scans, which can include observing signs, advertisements and ID checking at establishments throughout the town.

“Past environmental scans have shown several stores in the Town of Riverhead displaying large amounts of signage in windows, some of which are targeting youth,” said Cameron, who will be a senior.

Kelly Miloski, the community prevention specialist for Riverhead CAP, said environmental scans are done at events like Alive on 25.

“We go around just to make sure that these different considerations and signage is up and that people are following the wristbands and IDs are being checked,” she said. “We’re looking for positive and concerning feedback and then we can report back to event organizers.”

Ms. Miloski said the youth coalition has spent several months working on the marijuana presentation.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the town needs to form a “cohesive committee with the entire community” and requested the youth coalition take part in that task force.

“We’re going to start reaching out to people,” she said. “We have to change code, we have to develop code, we have to involve the entire community and I think you guys will be a great asset.”