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Smithtown Town Board opts out of retail marijuana sales

The Smithtown Town Board on Tuesday opted out

The Smithtown Town Board on Tuesday opted out of a state law that would have legalized retail sales of marijuana. Credit: Raychel Brightman

Smithtown has opted out of a state law that would have legalized retail sales of marijuana, renouncing potential tax revenue from what some board members have called a "gateway drug."

The town board’s 5-0 vote Tuesday ended more than a month of deliberation, with most council members saying early on they were likely to vote to opt out. Islip, Shelter Island and Nissequogue Village earlier this year passed similar legislation. Brookhaven and Islip passed zoning restricting marijuana sales to industrial areas when the state’s law takes effect next year. Municipalities have until Dec. 31 to opt out, but they can opt in later.

"The state has not fully divulged how they’re going to manage and oversee and regulate the sale of marijuana," Councilman Thomas Lohmann said at Tuesday’s meeting, which was conducted remotely. Town leaders may revisit the issue after evaluating those regulations, he said. Lohmann, a former NYPD detective with experience in narcotics enforcement, called marijuana a potentially dangerous gateway drug in a Newsday interview last summer.

In an interview after the vote, Lohmann said his concerns over regulation included inspection of cafes and dispensaries where marijuana could be sold or used under the state law. Town departments and county police departments are ill-suited for that work, he said, and law enforcement lacks tools to test drivers who might consume marijuana at those businesses and drive high.

The board’s decision drew a skeptical response from Troy Smit, a town resident and deputy director of Empire State NORML, an organization advocating for marijuana legalization. "What’s going on, and what will continue, is unregulated cannabis sales," he said at the meeting.

David Falkowski, a Bridgehampton farmer and chairman of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association’s Long Island Committee, also criticized the town vote. "There’s nothing they can do to prevent people from going over to the next town, nothing preventing people from purchasing from a delivery service and that delivery service bringing [marijuana] to a person’s home," Falkowski said in an interview.

Ultimately, he said, the vote would benefit well-financed "multistate operators" in the emerging marijuana industry who are able to reach local customers while excluding smaller entrepreneurs who might depend on the brick-and-mortar outlets disallowed by the town board.

According to an unofficial database compiled by Michael Doyle, founder of the cannabis industry consulting firm Cannasigliere, about 40 Long Island municipalities have opted out of marijuana retail. A handful have opted in, and Newsday reported in September that the Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton could allow sales and usage by the year’s end.

The state law legalizes adult recreational use and small-scale private cultivation; it also will eventually allow dispensaries and cafes to do business across much of the state. Ordinances passed by Smithtown and other Long Island municipalities only apply to the law’s retail sale provisions and will not outlaw personal use.

A portion of a 13% tax on what state officials have estimated will be $350 million in annual sales will go to local municipalities, but town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim has said the local share of any tax revenue would have been paltry in Smithtown, where any marijuana businesses would have been confined to industrial areas.

Opting Out

About 40 Long Island municipalities have opted out of marijuana retail, while a handful have opted in.

Source: Michael Doyle, Cannasigliere

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