East End towns have taken a mixed bag of positions on whether to opt out of allowing retail sales of cannabis within their boundaries, while the villages here have sent a clear message to Albany, opting out of allowing cannabis to be sold.
Although the use of marijuana has been legal throughout New York since early 2021, the state is in the process of setting up the framework to allow legal sale and growing of marijuana. Local municipalities had until Dec. 31, 2021 to inform the state whether they would choose to opt out of allowing marijuana to be sold within their boundaries.
Municipalities that opt out are allowed to later opt in, and some may choose to do so after drafting zoning changes to regulate where marijuana can be sold.
East Hampton and Shelter Island towns had opted out of allowing marijuana sales earlier this year, and the Southold Town Board voted to opt out at a special meeting Dec. 28. Southampton town has not voted to opt out and a proposal to opt out in Riverhead town failed 3-2 this past summer. The East End villages of Greenport, Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Southampton, Westhampton Beach, Quogue and Sagaponack have all opted out of allowing marijuana sales.
Members of the Shinnecock Nation voted in August to sell recreational cannabis at a dispensary and lounge, where cannabis grown on the Nation’s land will be sold. The venture, called Little Beach Harvest, is a partnership with TILT Holdings, Inc., a vertically integrated cannabis company with a long history in the medical marijuana industry, which is financing the effort. Little Beach Harvest, which was in the works as a medical marijuana dispensary before recreational use was legalized, is expected to open at 56 Montauk Highway in Southampton at some point this year — it can open much earlier than other dispensaries in the state because the Shinnecock Nation is sovereign territory.
Much of the local pushback against cannabis sales has been due to the all-or-nothing language in the state law — local municipalities had until the end of 2021 to decide whether to opt out, although they could choose to opt in at some point in the future.
Several residents who spoke in favor of Southold Town opting out at a Dec. 14 public hearing brought up this issue.
“New York approached this in a heavy-handed way,” said Terrence Kelleher of Southold. “You have to opt out by Dec. 31 of this year, but they’re predicting that shops won’t be open until 2023.”
“New York is the first state to propose cannabis consumption lounges,” he added. “Colorado only allows consumption in private residences. New York allows you to smoke it everywhere you can smoke cigarettes. This board should opt out and allow itself time to deliberate on these issues… I don’t see that we have anything to gain as residents.”
“I feel like we’re guinea pigs,” agreed Jeannie Schweibish of Mattituck. “Let’s see what happens in Riverhead, and with the state.”
“Allowing dispensaries will only normalize a culture of substance use,” said Jacqueline Kanarvogel, a new Mattituck resident who is a youth substance prevention specialist at HUGS in Westhampton Beach. “I’m here to argue for opting out, from a youth-minded perspective. I have no qualms against responsible and safe adult use of marijuana, but this will be bringing in very minimal amounts of money for the risk it could be bringing to the lives of youth in our area. Wait, pause and watch.”
Ms. Kanarvogel added that she attends New York State’s Cannabis Control Board meetings virtually, and said those meetings still leave her with more questions than answers about how cannabis sales will be overseen.
Ryan Andoos, who owns ther Route 27 Hemp Yard in Moriches, said the town could lose out on a percentage of the tax revenue generated by marijuana sales if it opts out while a limited number of licenses for dispensaries are distributed.
“There will still be delivery services, maybe coming from Riverhead,” he said. “They can deliver in the Town of Southold and the tax revenue would go to the Town of Riverhead.”
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell was skeptical.
“They say we’ll get a percentage, but a percentage of what? They said that when they created Lotto and we got nothing. The state hasn’t even decided how they’re going to tax it yet,” he said. “I don’t think tax revenue should be the basis of public policy. We have to make public policy in the best interest of the community.”
Mr. Russell added that, from what he’s read, the state will be granting licenses on a geographical basis, with three per jurisdiction, though the state has not yet said what that jurisdiction will be.
“Is that three per town?” he asked. “There’s no reason to assume they’re going to be gobbled up. The licenses aren’t going to be issued for some time.”
“I don’t want to argue. There are a lot of compelling reasons why we should consider allowing sales, and there are a lot of compelling reasons we should consider not (allowing them),” he added. “I have no objections with regard to use, or to sales, frankly. Ultimately, that will probably be inevitable. But I want to wait for guidelines so we don’t create legislation in the dark.”