More than 80% of Long Island’s town, village, and city governments have voted to opt out of allowing newly legalized recreational marijuana to be sold at pot shops or cannabis cafes in their communities.
Of the 110 localities total across Nassau and Suffolk counties, the Press tallied 90 that had passed opt-out legislation in the days before the Dec. 31, 2021 deadline that New York State gave local lawmakers to decide if they want in or out. Boards that opted out include those in nine of the 13 towns, both of the two cities — Long Beach and Glen Cove — and at least 81 of the 95 villages on LI. Officials in at least nine villages that declined to opt out said they didn’t bother because they are strictly residential and have no commercial establishments where a dispensary could open anyway, such as the tiny Village of Asharoken on a North Shore isthmus.
“The only thing we would be opting out of would be the [sales tax] revenue,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who leads one of the four towns that opted in and estimates pot will generate $1 million annually to fund town programs. The other three are the towns of Riverhead, Brookhaven, and Babylon, although some villages that fall within those town borders opted out, such as the villages of Lindenhurst, Port Jefferson, and Quogue.
State lawmakers legalized in March the growing, consuming, and possession of recreational marijuana possession, but gave towns, villages, and cities until New Year’s Eve to opt out of allowing sales. Growing, consuming, and possessing marijuana remains legal in the communities that opted out of allowing sales.
Three of the towns that opted in — Southampton, Brookhaven, and Riverhead — border one another, making eastern Suffolk the region where legal weed will be most widely available. In the towns of Southampton and Brookhaven, which are home to the Island’s two Indian reservations — the Shinnecock in Southampton and the Unkechaug tribe’s Poospatuck reservation in Mastic — were partly swayed by the fact that Native Americans plan to sell legal marijuana on their sovereign land, where town laws are irrelevant.
The four towns that opted in are evenly split between political party leadership. Southampton and Babylon have Democratic majorities — Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer is also the Suffolk Democratic chairman whose town board declined to pass an opt out measure after he called for all towns on LI to opt out in the spring. Republican majorities run the towns of Brookhaven and Riverhead, where the town board tried to pass an opt-out measure, but the proposal narrowly failed by a 3-2 vote. Brookhaven passed a measure limiting sales to industrial areas.
“If we don’t regulate this, the black market in the Town of Riverhead is going to thrive,” Riverhead Councilman Kenneth Rothwell said upon voting against the opt-out measure in July. Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, like many others who voted for opting out, said the lack of clarity on the regulations from the state’s fledgling Cannabis Control Board remains a concern.
The last town on the Island to opt out was Southold on the North Fork, the region’s most agricultural community, which voted on Dec. 28.
“We’re not just going to walk away from this,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who said the town will study if opting back in is ideal once the state regulations are released.
Towns and villages that opt out can opt back in later, but the deadline to opt out is at the end of 2021. Opting out also triggered an opportunity for advocates to petition for a referendum to allow voters to decide whether to opt back in. The only municipality on LI that appears to have voluntarily put the issue on ballots on Election Day was the Village of Amityville, where voters reaffirmed the village board’s decision to opt out.
Critics questioned the recreational marijuana sales opt-out movement.
“Local moratoriums banning the establishment of licensed cannabis retailers do nothing to limit local residents’ access to cannabis; they only limit their access to legal cannabis,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), an organization that has long lobbied for legalization. “Marijuana production and sales already take place in every neighborhood in New York now. However, in those localities that have chosen to regulate this marketplace, these transactions take place in a safe environment.”
TOWNS THAT OPTED OUT
TOWNS THAT OPTED IN
VILLAGES THAT OPTED OUT
Great Neck Estates
Great Neck Plaza
Hewlett Bay Park
New Hyde Park
Port Washington North
South Floral Park
VILLAGES THAT OPTED IN BUT HAVE NO OR LIMITED COMMERICAL PROPERTIES
West Hampton Dunes
Head of The Harbor
Oyster Bay Cove
VILLAGES WITH STATUS UNCLEAR AS OF DEC. 30
CITIES THAT OPTED OUT
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer supported opting in. He voted to hold a public hearing on opting out.