Riverhead struggling to attract local marijuana shops

New York State has tentatively approved the first recreational marijuana dispensary in Riverhead. But the town’s zoning code won’t allow it because the shop’s proposed location is too close to residences. 

It’s a problem that has been cited repeatedly since Riverhead adopted its zoning and land development regulations for retail marijuana sales in November 2022. 

Joe Lustberg, who, along with his brother Sean Lustberg, sought to locate their state-licensed marijuana dispensary in Riverhead, said there is “nothing” available in the town. 

The Lustbergs and other speakers at last week’s public meeting on the issue singled out a town regulation requiring a minimum of 1,000 feet between pot shops and residential dwellings as a big part of the problem. 

“I think the residential zoning is not a great idea,” said Sean Lustberg. “I don’t see why it needs to be there. The state doesn’t have that. I think it should be changed, if not gotten rid of, or reduced drastically to 250 or 500 feet.” 

Local officials don’t disagree, and estimate that, under current code, there are only four locations in the entire town where a dispensary would be permitted. 

The Town Board heard the same criticism earlier this year from the business advisory committee, which characterized the opportunities for marijuana dispensaries in Riverhead as “extraordinarily limited.” 

Councilman Ken Rothwell, who heads the “marijuana/cannabis” advisory committee that met last Wednesday, was appointed by the Town Board after recreational marijuana sales became legal in New York State. He said the town is looking to find more feasible locations for marijuana dispensaries before the state gets involved. 

He said the town is concerned that if its regulations are deemed too restrictive, the state might decide to take over responsibility for determining where dispensaries can be located. 

Riverhead is the only one of the five East End towns to allow legal marijuana sales and, per state guidelines, is allowed to put limits on “time, place and manner” for cannabis businesses. The town regulations currently ban retail sales or on-site consumption of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a residence, school, library or day care center, and within 500 feet of a town playground community center or children’s amusement establishment. The state also proposes that cannabis-related businesses be located at least 200 feet from houses of worship.

Riverhead was one of four towns in Suffolk County to allow a medical marijuana dispensary in 2021. As such, it was allowed to establish guidelines as to where cannabis shops can and can’t be located.

The property where the Lustbergs proposed the marijuana dispensary is on Ostrander Avenue and was once a bank but has been vacant for several years.