A Long Island-wide opt-out of the retail portion of the state’s new law legalizing recreational marijuana seems unlikely after a meeting of town supervisors on the issue resulted in no clear agreement.
Rich Schaffer, chair of the Suffolk County Town Supervisors Association, held a Zoom meeting Wednesday with all county supervisors, along with Oyster Bay and North Hempstead supervisors and the mayor of the City of Glen Cove.
"I don’t see a consensus," he said. "I see a willingness to all try and work together to handle this bill that’s been put on us with not a lot of time to figure out."
The bill passed last month legalizes the possession, sale and growing of marijuana for recreational purposes for anyone 21 years and older.
Under the law, a municipality cannot prohibit residents from consuming or growing marijuana but can opt out or regulate retail sales and consumption sites. If opting out, a municipality must pass a law by Dec. 31 stating its intention to do so. Residents can then try to hold a permissive referendum to reverse that law by collecting signatures from at least 5% of the total votes cast in the municipality for governor in the last election. A municipality that opts out can always opt in at a later date, Schaffer said.
Before Wednesday’s meeting, Schaffer, who is Babylon Town supervisor, firmly intended to have Babylon opt out. But he said recreational marijuana advocates in the meeting brought up points that opened his mind to possibly opting in.
"If we know that people are smoking it now … wouldn’t it be better if you had locations that were under state regulation as opposed to keeping the black market in business?" he said.
State officials estimate that legalizing recreational marijuana use will create tens of thousands of jobs and generate $350 million in annual revenue. Local municipalities will get 3% of the revenue.
Schaffer said that the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s plan to begin recreational marijuana sales this summer created a stir during the meeting. Having sales on Shinnecock land would "defeat any opting out" goals of nearby towns such as Southampton and Brookhaven, he said.
On Thursday, many town supervisors said they are still reviewing the law and discussing the issue with their town boards.
Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said that sales and dispensaries, along with recreational use locations in the town, must be carefully examined.
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said in a statement late Wednesday that he had not taken a stance on what he said is "a major public policy issue that needs a great deal of thought."
Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin, who was not in the meeting but said Schaffer briefed him, said that he has spoken to each town board member and that the town has made a "unanimous and bipartisan decision" to opt out. Several Long Island villages such as Freeport said they, too, intend to opt out.
Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said he continues to support an opt-out but is continuing discussions with the town attorney and the town board. Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said he wants to poll the community and discuss the law’s details with town attorneys before making a decision.
In anticipation of the state bill eventually passing, some villages and towns in recent years began placing restrictions on recreational sales. In 2019, Amityville passed a law restricting marijuana, hookah and vape businesses to just three properties in the village. Mineola passed a similar law limiting recreational businesses to an area zoned for light manufacturing and industrial use.
That same year, North Hempstead officials voted to ban recreational sales altogether. On Thursday, Supervisor Judi Bosworth said the town is forming a task force to study the issue.
Schaffer said he hopes to form a similar task force in Babylon. He said supervisors will meet again in two to three weeks and see whether there’s any consensus as to how to proceed.
Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said the town likely would not form a task force, but she said she plans to institute a "mailbox" where residents can submit comments on pot legalization and the town’s response.
"People are very passionate whether they support it or don’t," Carpenter said.
With Jean-Paul Salamanca, Deborah S. Morris, Ted Phillips, Dandan Zou, Carl MacGowan and Nick Spangler