Nissequogue could become one of the first Long Island villages to opt out of a New York State law permitting marijuana retail dispensaries and licenses for loungelike consumption sites after the mayor said local officials hoped to avert a situation where weed is sold from roadside farm stands.
Trustees this week scheduled an Aug. 17 public hearing for the proposed legislation, which uses language similar to a sample ordinance on the website for the New York Conference of Mayors, an association of the state’s cities and villages. The state’s marijuana legalization law, passed in March, paved the way for one of the largest legal marijuana markets in the nation but gave municipalities until year’s end to decide against allowing those businesses within their jurisdictions. They will not be allowed to opt out after Dec. 31.
Mayor Richard Smith said in an interview this week that trustees’ concerns stemmed from the tony village’s unusual circumstances: It has no commercial districts where marijuana businesses could be located but does have about 30 acres of land where trustees fear marijuana could one day be grown and sold in a fashion similar to East End farm stands that sell corn and tomatoes grown on-site.
"Our concern would be … anyone who decides to be a cannabis farmer, for instance, would be able to sell that product from their property," Smith said.
Smith said the land has not been actively farmed for about a decade and that anyone contemplating any type of farming would need a special-use permit to do so. No one has applied or asked about applying, but officials are "just trying to anticipate any contingencies and plan accordingly," he said.
State officials estimate that tax collections from the adult-use cannabis program could reach $350 million annually, but Smith said quality-of-life concerns outweigh the prospect of any local revenues. Imagine "you’re out playing with your family in the yard and there’s a heavy haze of marijuana smoke," he said. "If there were a retail establishment … nothing would prevent people from lighting up."
State law permits adults to use marijuana in most places where they can now use tobacco. Localities cannot prohibit residents from consuming or growing marijuana for personal use, though impaired driving is still a crime.
Nissequogue’s village attorney could not be reached, and emails to the state’s Office of Cannabis Management were returned undeliverable.
At least two municipalities have already acted: Shelter Island Town Board members opted out in May, and Riverhead’s board voted against opting out earlier this month.
A Hempstead Town spokesman said the town board opposes the sale of recreational marijuana and lounges where marijuana could be used, but has not yet opted out.
David Falkowski, a Bridgehampton farmer who owns a business selling nonintoxicating cannabidiol products and chairs the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association’s Long Island committee, said the scenario Nissequogue officials envision was unlikely.
"An open-air farm wagon or seasonal shed is not going to fit the ticket," he said, partly because of strict state standards for security, traceability, access and reporting.
But there is "a lot of interest" in the industry from Long Island farmers, Falkowski said. State law provides for what it calls "microbusiness licenses" authorizing limited cultivation, processing, distribution, delivery and dispensing of adult-use cannabis and cannabis products, but detailed regulations are not in place, he said.
It was unclear if other Long Island municipalities would act before the December deadline.
Town supervisors failed to reach a consensus after a virtual meeting this spring. Rich Schaffer, Babylon Town supervisor and chair of the Suffolk County Supervisors Association, did not respond to a request for comment.
Bellport Mayor Raymond Fell, president of the Suffolk County Village Officials Association, predicted most villages in central and western Suffolk would also opt out by the deadline.
Nassau County Village Officials Association executive director Ralph Kreitzman said he was unsure how villages there would act, but in Freeport, one of the largest villages in the state, Mayor Robert Kennedy said trustees would vote to opt out in coming weeks partly over concerns there is "no documented method of testing for intoxication by police."
With Vera Chinese