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Riverhead board: Town won't opt out of allowing marijuana dispensaries, consumption sites

Marijuana plants

Marijuana plants Credit: Los Angeles Times/Al Seib

Riverhead will not opt out of allowing retail marijuana sales and on-site consumption locations in town.

The Riverhead Town Board voted 3-2 Wednesday at its regular meeting at Town Hall not to adopt a local law to opt out of allowing cannabis retail dispensaries and on-site consumption sites in Riverhead.

With that vote, the town will allow the retail sale of marijuana and its use in sites designated for its consumption in accordance with a New York State law passed this year that legalized recreational marijuana.

Board members who voted "no" on opting out said that by not opting out, the town would be in a better position to regulate where, when and how places that would sell and allow consumption of marijuana operate.

Town Councilman Frank Beyrodt voted no, saying that by allowing retail cannabis sales, Riverhead can have more control over local retail dispensaries that sell marijuana and regulate when, where and how they operate.

"We can limit them to when they can operate and to have a control of any of this business is going to be important going forward," Beyrodt said.

Town Councilwoman Catherine Kent also voted no, saying the community made its feelings clear in a townwide survey in May in which 73.4% of residents supported retail sale of marijuana in Riverhead.

"That is what our community is advocating for, but mostly, I want to be able to regulate time, place, manner and saturation limits," Kent said.

Town Councilman Ken Rothwell, who voted yes, said that while he has no problem with recreation or medicinal marijuana use, he feels it should be consumed in a private, instead of public, setting. Rothwell added he does not want people who consume marijuana wandering around the planned new town square.

"Let’s watch the effects on our surrounding towns. Why not opt out and see how the other towns cope? For the first time, I’m saying ‘Riverhead Not First.’ There may be too many risks and side effects, so let’s wait and observe," Rothwell said.

Town Councilman Tim Hubbard, who voted no, said that while he listened to everyone’s input on the matter in the last few months, he feels allowing legal cannabis dispensaries or lounges would not pose a safety issue.

"I don’t envision our town beaches and our town square being loaded with people standing there and getting high. We can control that as a town no different than if we let somebody in the town square stand outside completely intoxicated and continue to drink," Hubbard said.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, who voted yes to opt out, said there were "many questions and many unknowns" with the state law, and the board should put the opt-out issue in a public referendum.

"My concern is not about the amount of money which will be generated. It’s about the safety, the detection, the prevention, the proper designation of use locations and to protect the public at large," Aguiar said.

Aguiar told Newsday after the meeting that she was disappointed with the vote.

"We’re underprepared and I owe it to my community to assure their safety," Aguiar said. "And at the moment we don’t have any guidance, there’s nothing on the books with legislation. It’s concerning, but I have to respect the opinion of my colleagues and I have to continue working with them."

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