Hubbard: Riverhead missing out on pot sales

Riverhead officials are still struggling to find ways to effectively capitalize on recently approved measures allowing for the sale and consumption of recreational pot sales within the town. 

At a public hearing last Wednesday, the Town Board tabled the latest proposal to address the challenges, which mainly revolve around zoning restrictions that curtail where such businesses can be located. The hearing will be held open until Friday, March 1 to allow for additional written comments.

Riverhead was one of only four Long Island municipalities that did not opt out of allowing the retail sale and public consumption of pot after New York State legalized it in 2021.

Town officials had initially hoped to generate a large amount of tax revenues from marijuana sales.

So far, that hasn’t happened. 

“We as a Town Board opened it up to make this happen and we’re losing a lot of tax money that could come from the tax portion of the dispensary sales,” Supervisor Tim Hubbard said. “I’ve seen the numbers that are coming in from shops that are open up west and in the New York City, and it’s staggering the amount of money we are losing.”

Mr. Hubbard did not share any specific tax revenue numbers. 

The initial zoning plan adopted by the town stipulated that locations for the retail sale and public consumption of marijuana would only be permitted more than 1,000 feet from residential properties. 

Officials later determined that the distance restriction was the problem — and said that once the requirement was amended, the number of properties where pot could be sold or consumed would jump from about 4 to 144. 

Problem solved? Apparently not. 

“The new proposed maps produce similar results [to] the last map/restrictions … with few locations for cannabis retail to open,” Gahrey Ovalle, president of the Long Island Cannabis Coalition, wrote in a letter to Councilman Ken Rothwell, who chairs the town’s cannabis committee. Mr. Ovalle added that even with the proposed changes, the final result will be “unreasonable and impractical” for potential cannabis retailers. Mr. Rothwell was not present at last Wednesday’s meeting.

The proposed changes discussed at last week’s hearing are intended to “reduce cannabis retail/lounge distance restrictions as they relate to residential uses in designated Commercial Corridors.” 

The proposal would create five such corridors, running along on Route 25A from the Brookhaven Town boundary heading east to Route 25 in Calverton, then along Route 25A to Route 25, to Route 58 and then back onto Route 25.

The proposal also states that only one cannabis retail or on-site consumption establishment would be permitted in each of the five commercial corridors. 

Another member of the Long Island Cannabis Coalition pointed out that there are very few retail sites on Route 58 currently available for rent.