Osbert Orduña, CEO of The Cannabis Place, holds a list...

Osbert Orduña, CEO of The Cannabis Place, holds a list of stipulations from the Town of Brookhaven that he says have made it a challenge for him and his business partners to secure a location to open their marijuana dispensary. Credit: Reece T. Williams

Cannabis entrepreneurs seeking to open dispensaries on Long Island are frustrated with proposed or adopted zoning legislation restricting operators to industrial areas, saying the laws could hurt sales or present other problems. 

Dispensaries can open only in Long Island towns that opted in to retail marijuana sales. In three of the four opt-in municipalities, legislation has been adopted or proposed that would keep the dispensaries out of downtowns, and put them in isolated zones or commercial locations.

“What you’re doing is opting out by zoning and if you’re going to go that route, just say no,” said Osbert Orduña, CEO of The Cannabis Place, a service-disabled veteran and minority-owned business focused on launching social equity dispensaries.

Babylon, Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton have opted to allow retail cannabis, as recreational marijuana sales are likely to be implemented by early 2023. A dispensary can only sell an individual up to 3 ounces, the same amount a person is legally allowed to possess, state officials said.

State regulators have authorized a maximum of 20 dispensaries on Long Island, with a Monday deadline for the first round to apply. 

Orduña, who is on the executive board of the tristate chapter of the National Hispanic Cannabis Council trade organization, wants to open a cannabis business in Brookhaven, where he has lived most of his life. He said the zoning restrictions are making it difficult for him and other potential business owners to find an adequate storefront that meets the zoning criteria but is also safe and financially feasible. 

“It’s a retail business,” said Orduña, 48. “Don’t discriminate against business operators because of the type of products they have in their establishments.”

In August 2021, Brookhaven Town officials approved a zoning amendment that banned pot sales within 500 feet of homes or 1,000 feet of schools, houses of worship, hospitals, libraries, parks, playgrounds, gyms, dance studios or at common gathering places. Marijuana stores must be at least 1 mile apart, the law states. The zoning amendment, approved 6-0 by the town board on Aug. 5, 2021, also bans marijuana smoking rooms and retail stores from downtown business districts.

“You’re going to have stores open that are not going to impact homes or other commercial communities,” Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine told Newsday shortly after the new laws were adopted. 

Brookhaven Town officials did not respond to additional requests for comment.

In a statement, state Office of Cannabis Management spokesperson Aaron Ghitelman said that under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which in March 2021 legalized cannabis for adult recreational use, localities have a role to play in determining the time, place and manner of operations for dispensaries.

“However, those rules cannot be deemed overly restrictive by the Cannabis Control Board,” Ghitelman said. “If local laws and/or regulations render the operation of a licensed location unreasonably impracticable, the MRTA allows for the board to review and potentially overturn any such laws or regulations.”

In Babylon, officials are expected to adopt a similar local law that would allow retail and on-site consumption in light-industry areas, by special-use permits. The legislation would allow dispensaries, consumption sites and microbusinesses only in areas zoned industrial and would prohibit them from operating within a 1,000-foot radius of a residential area.

The businesses also would not be allowed within a 200-foot radius of religious properties or within a 500-foot radius of K-12 education facilities, libraries, parks, playgrounds, child-care centers, youth organizations, dance studios, batting cages, gymnasiums or other venues “where minors congregate.”

Marijuana businesses also could not operate within a 500-foot radius of another such business.

Attorney Matthew McDonough, who is working with the town on zoning laws, said the ordinance under consideration will create barriers between cannabis businesses and locations where children congregate, such as schools and places of worship. McDonough noted that Babylon, Lindenhurst and Amityville villages — which have retail downtown spaces — have opted out of retail pot sales.

“[Route] 110 is the busiest jobs corridor on Long Island and an important major economic hub, so on the Babylon Town side of that, they’re going to have access to that,” McDonough said. “Tanger [Outlets] Mall [in Deer Park] is a huge economic driver in the town … so there’s definitely spaces more equipped for folks, but there’s also subleases.”

Babylon Town held a public hearing Wednesday regarding these proposed zoning laws, but no members of the public spoke and the hearing was closed. Town officials said the local law will likely be passed at the October board meeting.

“My vision is to have a landing page on the website that sort of walks people through here’s the parcels, take a look around, make sure there’s no church or school, day care nearby … and see what’s available in the area,” McDonough said.  

Carmine Fiore, 37, of Levittown, is seeking to open a dispensary in Babylon. As a potential small-business owner, he said he worries that larger dispensaries would occupy the real estate allowed under the proposed zoning laws.

“[The large corporations] have infrastructure and capabilities of picking up all of the retail areas that are zoned for cannabis,” he said.

Fiore, an Army veteran who is an EMT with the FDNY, said he wanted to spearhead a social equity program in Babylon, which would strictly zone areas for minority and veteran-disabled candidates. He plans to open a 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot facility, which would have no marketing in front, but only display the store name, “Ivy Botanical.”

Fiore has previously told Newsday that he is working with Babylon Town officials to find a location.

Farther east in Riverhead, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said that with the lack of guidance provided by the state on the sale and consumption of adult-use marijuana, the town is taking a proactive approach to regulating it.

Under Riverhead’s proposed regulations, retail and on-site consumption establishments would be permitted only in certain sections of town. Those locations include Riverhead’s Business Center area, shopping centers, destination retail centers, rural corridors, the village center, downtown centers, the Peconic River Community and other business districts.

“It’s the most appropriate place to be,” Aguiar said. “We have designated some areas near schools, parks and downtown that will be restricted from use, and we are focusing most of it along Route 58.”

The town has stipulated that retail or on-site consumption establishments cannot be within 1,000 feet of the property lines of any school, library or day-care facility. Such sites also cannot be located within 500 feet of any town beach, playground or community center, or children’s amusement center. Riverhead will hold a public hearing next month to discuss the proposal. 

For some business owners along Route 58, opinions about dispensaries as potential neighbors vary.

“If there’s a way to protest a [retail cannabis dispensary], I don’t care if I’d have to spend money, I’d happily do it,” said Jose Cuadra, owner of JC Jewelry in Riverhead. 

Cuadra, 64, who spoke in Spanish, said several of his family members have fallen into addiction because of marijuana and he expressed concerns for the youth in the area.

 A few stores down, at Gotham Smoke, owner Mustafa Nayci had a different outlook. 

“They did make marijuana legal in the state of New York, where you can grow your own plants, so I don’t see why you can’t sell it and get taxed off of it,” said Nayci, 44. 

Riverhead is home to Columbia Care, a publicly traded cannabis company operating in several states and the European Union, which has a medical dispensary on East Main Street. Other medical marijuana locations on Long Island include Curaleaf in Carle Place; MedMen in Lake Success; NYCANNA in Farmingdale; Valley Agriceuticals in Huntington Station, and a new location coming soon for Fiorello Pharmaceuticals, according to the Office of Cannabis Management’s website.

Southampton is the only town that has not proposed zoning laws for retail cannabis. Supervisor Jay Schneiderman told Newsday that it is waiting for further guidance from the state. Schneiderman said the town board has discussed the matter extensively but could not come to a consensus on a set of local laws.

“We had lengthy debate on how to approach this issue,” Schneiderman said. “Whether it should be just industrial zones or whether it should be more readily accessible. What the proper setbacks would be and what the traffic impacts might be.”

He said officials will keep dispensaries away from places where children congregate, such as libraries and playgrounds, but will take into account concerns from the community, including traffic and safety.

“We don’t put our liquor stores and tobacco stores in only those industrial areas,” he said. “The state may be treating them with rough equivalence, but I’m not sure the community is.”

Lori-Ann Novello, executive director of Lindenhurst Community Cares Coalition, which aims to prevent underage drinking and substance misuse among youth and adults, said the group is not trying to stop progress in the town, but will continue to educate the community and prevent substance abuse.

“I think that keeping it in a light-industrial area does not normalize it,” Novello said. “Putting it right in the heart of the town normalizes it even more; you become accustomed to what you see.”

Novello said the coalition conducts regular surveys among youth to assess their perception of risk for cannabis, tobacco, prescription medication and alcohol.

“We assess our community and look for the things that are important to our community,” she said. “We’re going to adjust what we need to do to serve our community well.”

Felicia Scocozza, executive director of the Riverhead Community Awareness Program, said she would favor zoning laws to keep cannabis in light-industrial areas and away from downtowns. As recreational cannabis comes to the town, she said keeping it out of the hands of minors is a priority.

“We have worked extensively on building consensus on this,” Scocozza said. “We can agree that we want to keep marijuana out of the hands of youth, that we want to keep our community family-friendly and have smoke-free spaces in our community.”

As for further state guidance for municipalities, Ghitelman said it's on the way.

“In the next few months we will release retail regulations for municipalities across the state to make sure their local zoning laws are not overly restrictive,” he said in a statement. “These regulations are based on conversations the Office of Cannabis Management has had with municipalities across the state, and will make sure local voices and needs are heard and included.”

Cannabis entrepreneurs seeking to open dispensaries on Long Island are frustrated with proposed or adopted zoning legislation restricting operators to industrial areas, saying the laws could hurt sales or present other problems.

Dispensaries can open only in Long Island towns that opted in to retail marijuana sales. In three of the four opt-in municipalities, legislation has been adopted or proposed that would keep the dispensaries out of downtowns, and put them in isolated zones or commercial locations.

“What you’re doing is opting out by zoning and if you’re going to go that route, just say no,” said Osbert Orduña, CEO of The Cannabis Place, a service-disabled veteran and minority-owned business focused on launching social equity dispensaries.

Babylon, Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton have opted to allow retail cannabis, as recreational marijuana sales are likely to be implemented by early 2023. A dispensary can only sell an individual up to 3 ounces, the same amount a person is legally allowed to possess, state officials said.

State regulators have authorized a maximum of 20 dispensaries on Long Island, with a Monday deadline for the first round to apply. 

Orduña, who is on the executive board of the tristate chapter of the National Hispanic Cannabis Council trade organization, wants to open a cannabis business in Brookhaven, where he has lived most of his life. He said the zoning restrictions are making it difficult for him and other potential business owners to find an adequate storefront that meets the zoning criteria but is also safe and financially feasible. 

“It’s a retail business,” said Orduña, 48. “Don’t discriminate against business operators because of the type of products they have in their establishments.”

In August 2021, Brookhaven Town officials approved a zoning amendment that banned pot sales within 500 feet of homes or 1,000 feet of schools, houses of worship, hospitals, libraries, parks, playgrounds, gyms, dance studios or at common gathering places. Marijuana stores must be at least 1 mile apart, the law states. The zoning amendment, approved 6-0 by the town board on Aug. 5, 2021, also bans marijuana smoking rooms and retail stores from downtown business districts.

“You’re going to have stores open that are not going to impact homes or other commercial communities,” Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine told Newsday shortly after the new laws were adopted. 

Brookhaven Town officials did not respond to additional requests for comment.

In a statement, state Office of Cannabis Management spokesperson Aaron Ghitelman said that under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which in March 2021 legalized cannabis for adult recreational use, localities have a role to play in determining the time, place and manner of operations for dispensaries.

“However, those rules cannot be deemed overly restrictive by the Cannabis Control Board,” Ghitelman said. “If local laws and/or regulations render the operation of a licensed location unreasonably impracticable, the MRTA allows for the board to review and potentially overturn any such laws or regulations.”

‘Barriers’ in Babylon

In Babylon, officials are expected to adopt a similar local law that would allow retail and on-site consumption in light-industry areas, by special-use permits. The legislation would allow dispensaries, consumption sites and microbusinesses only in areas zoned industrial and would prohibit them from operating within a 1,000-foot radius of a residential area.

The businesses also would not be allowed within a 200-foot radius of religious properties or within a 500-foot radius of K-12 education facilities, libraries, parks, playgrounds, child-care centers, youth organizations, dance studios, batting cages, gymnasiums or other venues “where minors congregate.”

Marijuana businesses also could not operate within a 500-foot radius of another such business.

Attorney Matthew McDonough, who is working with the town on zoning laws, said the ordinance under consideration will create barriers between cannabis businesses and locations where children congregate, such as schools and places of worship. McDonough noted that Babylon, Lindenhurst and Amityville villages — which have retail downtown spaces — have opted out of retail pot sales.

“[Route] 110 is the busiest jobs corridor on Long Island and an important major economic hub, so on the Babylon Town side of that, they’re going to have access to that,” McDonough said. “Tanger [Outlets] Mall [in Deer Park] is a huge economic driver in the town … so there’s definitely spaces more equipped for folks, but there’s also subleases.”

Babylon Town held a public hearing Wednesday regarding these proposed zoning laws, but no members of the public spoke and the hearing was closed. Town officials said the local law will likely be passed at the October board meeting.

“My vision is to have a landing page on the website that sort of walks people through here’s the parcels, take a look around, make sure there’s no church or school, day care nearby … and see what’s available in the area,” McDonough said.  

Carmine Fiore, an Army veteran who lives in Levittown, wants...

Carmine Fiore, an Army veteran who lives in Levittown, wants to open a dispensary in Babylon Town but said he worries that larger dispensaries would occupy the real estate allowed under the town’s proposed zoning laws. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Carmine Fiore, 37, of Levittown, is seeking to open a dispensary in Babylon. As a potential small-business owner, he said he worries that larger dispensaries would occupy the real estate allowed under the proposed zoning laws.

“[The large corporations] have infrastructure and capabilities of picking up all of the retail areas that are zoned for cannabis,” he said.

Fiore, an Army veteran who is an EMT with the FDNY, said he wanted to spearhead a social equity program in Babylon, which would strictly zone areas for minority and veteran-disabled candidates. He plans to open a 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot facility, which would have no marketing in front, but only display the store name, “Ivy Botanical.”

Fiore has previously told Newsday that he is working with Babylon Town officials to find a location.

A ‘proactive’ approach in Riverhead

Farther east in Riverhead, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said that with the lack of guidance provided by the state on the sale and consumption of adult-use marijuana, the town is taking a proactive approach to regulating it.

Under Riverhead’s proposed regulations, retail and on-site consumption establishments would be permitted only in certain sections of town. Those locations include Riverhead’s Business Center area, shopping centers, destination retail centers, rural corridors, the village center, downtown centers, the Peconic River Community and other business districts.

In Riverhead, the proposed zones allowing cannabis sales would be: Business Center (shaded red and yellow), Shopping Center (pink), Destination Retail Center (red with diagonal black lines), Rural Corridor (yellow with black lines), Downtown Center 1(solid blue), 2 (blue with blue lines) and 3 (yellow with red lines), Hamlet Center (peach), Village Center (red with red lines), Peconic River Community (blue with black dots) and Business F (solid orange) zoning use districts. This map focuses on downtown Riverhead. Credit: Town of Riverhead

“It’s the most appropriate place to be,” Aguiar said. “We have designated some areas near schools, parks and downtown that will be restricted from use, and we are focusing most of it along Route 58.”

The town has stipulated that retail or on-site consumption establishments cannot be within 1,000 feet of the property lines of any school, library or day-care facility. Such sites also cannot be located within 500 feet of any town beach, playground or community center, or children’s amusement center. Riverhead will hold a public hearing next month to discuss the proposal. 

For some business owners along Route 58, opinions about dispensaries as potential neighbors vary.

“If there’s a way to protest a [retail cannabis dispensary], I don’t care if I’d have to spend money, I’d happily do it,” said Jose Cuadra, owner of JC Jewelry in Riverhead. 

Cuadra, 64, who spoke in Spanish, said several of his family members have fallen into addiction because of marijuana and he expressed concerns for the youth in the area.

 A few stores down, at Gotham Smoke, owner Mustafa Nayci had a different outlook. 

“They did make marijuana legal in the state of New York, where you can grow your own plants, so I don’t see why you can’t sell it and get taxed off of it,” said Nayci, 44. 

Riverhead is home to Columbia Care, a publicly traded cannabis company operating in several states and the European Union, which has a medical dispensary on East Main Street. Other medical marijuana locations on Long Island include Curaleaf in Carle Place; MedMen in Lake Success; NYCANNA in Farmingdale; Valley Agriceuticals in Huntington Station, and a new location coming soon for Fiorello Pharmaceuticals, according to the Office of Cannabis Management’s website.

Southampton is the only town that has not proposed zoning laws for retail cannabis. Supervisor Jay Schneiderman told Newsday that it is waiting for further guidance from the state. Schneiderman said the town board has discussed the matter extensively but could not come to a consensus on a set of local laws.

“We had lengthy debate on how to approach this issue,” Schneiderman said. “Whether it should be just industrial zones or whether it should be more readily accessible. What the proper setbacks would be and what the traffic impacts might be.”

He said officials will keep dispensaries away from places where children congregate, such as libraries and playgrounds, but will take into account concerns from the community, including traffic and safety.

“We don’t put our liquor stores and tobacco stores in only those industrial areas,” he said. “The state may be treating them with rough equivalence, but I’m not sure the community is.”

Finding a middle ground 

Lori-Ann Novello, executive director of Lindenhurst Community Cares Coalition, which aims to prevent underage drinking and substance misuse among youth and adults, said the group is not trying to stop progress in the town, but will continue to educate the community and prevent substance abuse.

“I think that keeping it in a light-industrial area does not normalize it,” Novello said. “Putting it right in the heart of the town normalizes it even more; you become accustomed to what you see.”

Novello said the coalition conducts regular surveys among youth to assess their perception of risk for cannabis, tobacco, prescription medication and alcohol.

“We assess our community and look for the things that are important to our community,” she said. “We’re going to adjust what we need to do to serve our community well.”

Felicia Scocozza, executive director of the Riverhead Community Awareness Program, said she would favor zoning laws to keep cannabis in light-industrial areas and away from downtowns. As recreational cannabis comes to the town, she said keeping it out of the hands of minors is a priority.

“We have worked extensively on building consensus on this,” Scocozza said. “We can agree that we want to keep marijuana out of the hands of youth, that we want to keep our community family-friendly and have smoke-free spaces in our community.”

As for further state guidance for municipalities, Ghitelman said it's on the way.

“In the next few months we will release retail regulations for municipalities across the state to make sure their local zoning laws are not overly restrictive,” he said in a statement. “These regulations are based on conversations the Office of Cannabis Management has had with municipalities across the state, and will make sure local voices and needs are heard and included.”