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Few spots for pot in Riverhead Town; regulations called “too strict”

Riverhead Town’s regulations regarding recreational cannabis placement have drawn criticism from its business advisory committee, which has said the regulations are too restrictive and leave few if any locations where marijuana can be consumed. 

The Town Board voted Nov. 1, 2022, to ban retail sales or on-site consumption of cannabis within 1,000 feet of a school, library or day care center. 

It also banned marijuana use within 500 feet of a town playground, community center, children’s amusement or place of worship. 

“It was my understanding that the intent of the law was to drive everything to Route 58 and away from downtown,” Councilman Bob Kern said at last Thursday’s Town Board work session, where the issue was discussed. “The way the code is currently written, it does not accomplish that.”

The restrictions related to schools, churches and residences, Mr. Kern said, leave only two locations in the town where cannabis could be purchased or consumed — one on Kroemer Avenue and the other on Route 58.Officials also were unclear as to the total number of cannabis dispensaries or on-site consumption sites that can legally be established in the town. 

Estimates ranged from zero to 37. Mr. Kern estimated low, in the one or two range, while Councilman Ken Rothwell had an estimate from the town engineer’s office of 37. Officials plan to study that number further.

The board last year had mapped out areas where cannabis could be used, but officials now say those maps are very limited.

Lee Mendelson, an attorney and member of the business advisory committee, as well as the owner of an upstate company that tests cannabis, said Riverhead was one of the most progressive towns in Suffolk County, as it is one of only three towns — Babylon and Brookhaven being the other two — to approve the use of cannabis, which was legalized in New York about three years ago. 

The business committee sent a letter dated Feb. 15 that says the town’s regulations “are overly restrictive and practically regulate dispensaries or on-site consumption places out of the majority of Riverhead.”

“The business advisory committee was requested to take a look at this new code because there were people who are interested in opening dispensaries,” Mr. Mendelson said. “But when they tried to map it out, they found that the places where they would be able to open the dispensary were extraordinarily limited.”

There was basically nothing on Route 58, and there was a one spot on Kroemer Avenue that was the woods, Mr. Mendelson said. He said the state Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act is proposing that required distances for cannabis-related businesses be 200 feet from churches and 500 feet from schools.

These are in line with State Liquor Authority regulations, and are also close to what the business advisory committee is recommending to the town. 

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, a retired police officer who has opposed all efforts to legalize marijuana, said they are just guidelines, not laws. 

David Falkowski, a cannabis grower from Bridgehampton and founder of Open Minded Organics, said state guidance documents had been issued “to help clarify the MRTA in the void of adopted regulation.”

He said the “word” is that the state will not make any substantive changes to the regulations, which will soon be adopted.

Ms. Aguiar said she spoke to MRTA earlier this year and they told her “we can do what we needed to do.”

The business advisory committee letter describes its preferred plan as follows: “No retail or on-site consumption establishment shall be established or located within 200 feet, measured using a straight line from the center of the nearest entrance of the retail or on-site consumption establishment to the nearest entrance of any building or structure zoned for residential use.” 

The proposal would have no impact on downtown, Mr. Mendelson said. 

Board members said they would need to discuss the proposal further at an upcoming meeting.