OCM Director of External Affairs Jason Salmon speaking at the...

OCM Director of External Affairs Jason Salmon speaking at the industry forum at the Bayview on the Water in Freeport Thursday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Regional pot shop licensees hope Long Island localities loosen restrictions on dispensary locations so they don't need to formally challenge zoning rules.

Under industry regulations adopted Tuesday, New Yorkers can appeal to the state if they believe a locality that chose to allow recreational dispensaries has rules or zoning that's "unreasonably impracticable" to these businesses. The state will accept complaints when the regulations go into effect around Oct. 12, according to the state Office of Cannabis Management, which oversees the industry. Officials will then issue advisory opinions, which may bar local governments from adopting proposed rules or be presented in court cases challenging existing restrictions..

Three dozen businesses are licensed to open pot shops on Long Island, but nearly all have struggled to find storefronts. Just four towns — Babylon, Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton — allow retail and consumption venues, and their zoning makes finding eligible property a challenge, licensees say.

The hunt for space has been further complicated by a court-ordered injunction that bars the state from taking steps to finalize the provisional retail licenses that have already been issued. A judge ordered the pause after four military veterans alleged the state undercut the license prioritization they are entitled to by limiting the first licenses to other types of social equity candidates.

The threat of state intervention has already changed the tenor of conversations with towns, according to Gahrey  Ovalle, co-founder of the Long Island Cannabis Coalition, a regional trade group. For instance, he said the Town of Babylon is setting up sessions to train its inspectors on the regulations “so they know how to expedite the process for dispensaries.” Riverhead is exploring how to make more properties in appropriate areas eligible for dispensaries without creating a pot-centric district, said David Falkowski, a Long Islander involved with the Cannabis Association of New York trade group.

“We are trying to start with honey before we move into vinegar,” Ovalle said at a Long Island Cannabis Coalition event in Freeport on Thursday. “We want them to be our partners. We want them to make the decision to allow us in, so that it’s amicable for everybody.”

If that doesn’t happen, retailers will be ready to appeal, Ovalle said.

“They’re going to immediately follow up with the OCM to see if they can issue one of those advisories,” said Ovalle, who received a retail license with his brother, Warren Ovalle. “People are going to jump all over that sooner as opposed to later. That’s just the nature of everyone wanting to be at the front of the line.”

Regional wariness to dispensaries will remain a hurdle even after the court lifts the injunction, OCM director of external affairs Jason Salmon said Thursday.

“Even if we were cleared to open up everything today, we would not have space to put all of these licensees,” Salmon said, adding that he and his colleagues are committed to “bring this market to fruition and really succeed together.”

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