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Teens speak up about Riverhead's marijuana sales plans in town

Community Awareness Program (CAP) coordinator Kelly Miloski, from

Community Awareness Program (CAP) coordinator Kelly Miloski, from left, and Youth Coalition members Tifany Perez, 14, Adrianna Mosca, 14, Alexandra Santoro, 14, and Cameron Rothwell, 16, head to their presentation July 22 on marijuana youth access safety in Riverhead Town. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Local youths are asking Riverhead officials to consider enacting policies and best practices to prevent young people’s access to marijuana after the town recently voted to allow the retail marijuana sales.

Alexandra Santoro, Cameron Rothwell, Adrianna Mosca and Tifany Perez, from the nonprofit Community Awareness Program Inc. (CAP), outlined several considerations for adult-use cannabis in Riverhead to the town board at its July 22 work session.

The board narrowly voted 3-2 on July 8 not to opt out of allowing cannabis retail dispensaries and on-site consumption sites in Riverhead. Residents opposing the move said they feared negative effects on the community by allowing the sales, while proponents said the move would provide more revenue for the town.

Kelly Miloski, CAP’s community prevention specialist, told Newsday that with marijuana being the second most-abused substance among teens — behind alcohol — in their community, the town must be more aware of youth access to cannabis.

"It is something we have to be mindful of to make sure that youth don’t obtain access and that it’s not normalized for youth as the laws are changing in our community, and that we may see more retail outlets and on-site consumption within the next year," Miloski said.

The teens suggested Riverhead consider establishing clear family-friendly zones prohibiting alcohol and marijuana use, training requirements for individuals selling cannabis at retail and on-site locations, and expanding compliance checks to include such locations, among other ideas.

Santoro, 14, a rising sophomore at Riverhead High School, told Newsday after the work session that she is concerned about the potential for increased automobile accidents among teens if marijuana becomes more available to them.

"Marijuana is effective on drivers, too, and since a lot of us are going to be hitting the road soon, it’s not really safe for us to be early drivers and have marijuana-influence drivers on the road, so that’s one of my main concerns," Santoro said.

Perez, 14, who also attends the high school, said she worries that more access to cannabis may affect her peers academically.

"They won’t perform as well at school, they’re going to lag on their homework, lag on attendance...I want people to actually try their best," Perez said.

After the meeting, Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar invited the teens to participate on a town committee that will examine changing the town code regarding marijuana.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent commended the teens and CAP officials for their work on the issues.

Rothwell, 16, whose father is Councilman Ken Rothwell, said he hopes Riverhead will consider measures barring ads and signage targeting youth.

"A lot of stores have their stores covered with advertisements," Rothwell told Newsday. "Some advertisements are targeted towards children in the community. We hope the town will look at that and change town codes to make that situation better."

TIPS FROM TEENS

Teens from Community Awareness Program Inc. (CAP) suggested several best practices and policy considerations for adult-use cannabis in Riverhead:

  • Determining retail sale and on-site consumption sites with consideration of where schools, day care facilities, houses of worship, playgrounds, parks, beaches and other youth and family zones are located.
  • Requiring stores to have signage that communicates laws related to cannabis sales and use in English and Spanish.
  • Consider updating town policy for alcohol use at public events to include marijuana, vape and tobacco restrictions within public event boundaries, and;
  • Creating media campaigns focusing on town policy, resources for addiction, consequences for illegal and underage use and sales of cannabis products and paraphernalia, and the Social Host Law that prohibits adults from knowingly allowing drug use on property they own, lease or control.

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