Public hearing set for June 15 as city council faces decision on retail marijuana dispensaries
Riverhead City Council plans to hold a public hearing on a proposal to refuse to allow retail marijuana dispensaries and on-site public consumption of marijuana.
The hearing is scheduled for the June 15 city council meeting, which will begin at 6 p.m.
Municipalities that opt out will lose the 3% share of tax revenue generated from retail sales of marijuana under the state’s new legislation.
But presenting the proposal for a hearing does not necessarily mean that the board is inclined to withdraw.
According to deputy lawyer Anne Marie Prudenti, state law does not allow the board of directors to hold a direct public referendum on the issues. Instead, it only allows the public to weigh in through a permissive referendum.
A permissive referendum allows the public to file a petition opposing a given measure within 45 days of its adoption by city council. If this petition is signed by 10% or more of the qualified voters in the last presidential election, then the city council must place this question on the November 2 ballot or hold a special election, which officials say is very expensive.
Also, if a permissive referendum meets the challenge standard, the measure must be put on the ballot 60 days before November 2, Ms. Prudenti said.
City council recently conducted a survey on marijuana and 1,408 people answered eight questions. Of these, 86% said they were residents of Riverhead and 13% of business owners in Riverhead.
Of these, 73% supported sales of marijuana at Riverhead and 61% supported the authorization of public consumption of marijuana in cafes or lounges.
On where to allow retail marijuana sales, 37% said downtown Riverhead, 22% said they were on Highway 58, 10% preferred industrial areas, 24% said said “none of the above” and 8% said “other”.
State law legalizing marijuana gives municipalities until December 31 to opt out of retail sales and public consumption. Marijuana is otherwise legal in New York State for recreational use. Regardless of the city’s decision to opt out, it will also be legal for consumption on private premises.
Supervisor Yvette Aguiar says the public hearing is necessary, even with the results of the investigation very clear.
“It is important that everyone is engaged in this effort,” she said.
City Councilor Ken Rothwell agreed, saying, “By holding the public hearing, we are also continuing to educate the public on this, as I think there is still confusion over what we approve. It is not for us to legalize marijuana.
“We always want to hear from the public,” Ms. Aguiar said.
Ms Aguiar noted that the 1,408 survey responses mean that only 4% of Riverhead’s population – 33,000 according to the 2020 census – have been heard on this matter.
“The argument that 1,400 is not enough to hear in a city of 33,000 people, how much more are you going to hear with one hearing?” said City Councilor Tim Hubbard. “If you have 12 people at an audience, that’s a lot.”
He said the investigation is more ambitious than a public hearing.
“You will probably [get] the same 12 to 15 people ”at a hearing, he said, adding that he supported the hearing.
“The results of the investigation were quite strong,” said City Councilor Catherine Kent. “We heard from 1,400 people and it was pretty one-sided.”
Ms Kent said she was not opposed to the public hearing, but believed she would only get around five speakers.
She said moving forward with the withdrawal proposal is almost as if the city is “denying” the opinions of those who responded to the survey.
She doesn’t think the city should back down. Instead, she said, the city should “rule with care.”
While the city has no say in whether or not marijuana is legal, it can, through zoning, specify and control areas of the city where it can be sold or consumed publicly, officials say.
Ms Prudenti said that even in “conservative” states, the results of investigations into marijuana have been fairly consistent, with around 60% to 65% in favor of its retail sale and public consumption on site.