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Southold opts out of retail marijuana, public consumption sites; Supervisor says issue will be discussed further

As for now, retail marijuana dispensaries and on-site consumption spots will not be allowed in Southold Town once the drug becomes legal in New York State.

The Southold Town Board voted 5-1 Tuesday evening to opt out of allowing dispensaries or places to indulge publicly in marijuana use, but Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the issue is not dead and the town could still elect to participate in the program before New York State completes its regulatory process. The state’s law legalizing recreational use of pot goes into effect April 1, but lawmakers believe it could take considerably longer — perhaps another two years — before dispensaries begin to pop up.

“We have to wait for New York State to issue its guidelines and regulations,” Mr Russell said. “… We need to know what those are if we are going to create something to accommodate it. We can’t do that in the dark when we don’t have all the current information.”

Southold Town is the last municipality on the East End to vote on the law, which needed to be done before year’s end. Riverhead, Southampton, Brookhaven and Babylon were the only Long Island towns not to opt out.

The Village of Greenport also opted out, meaning that, at least for the time being, Riverhead Town will be the only place to allow it on the North Fork. Riverhead is still working on its own set of regulations regarding where specifically it will be allowed.

Mr. Russell said he discussed the issue with Councilman-elect Greg Doroski, one of two Democrats joining the board next week, and that Mr. Doroski came up with the idea to opt out now, during the limited time period to do so, and to revisit the issue in 2022.

“I think the public should understand that opting out doesn’t mean that we are opting out and walking away from the issue,” the supervisor said following the vote. “New York state put this on us the way they decided to cradt this legislation. So let’s take the opportunity to opt out and then we have some very knowledgeable people, let’s rely on them and put a group together … [to] study the issue.”

The supervisor said he doesn’t anticipate retail marijuana sales to officially be allowed in New York state until “mid-2023.”

Town Councilwoman Jill Doherty said there were “too many unanswered questions” for her to support the measure Tuesday.

“I want to give us time to do the right thing for the town,” she said.

Southold Town Councilwoman Sarah Nappa, the lone Democrat on the board, cast the only vote against opting out Tuesday. She declined to publicly elaborate on her decision during Tuesday’s meeting, but when reached for comment later Tuesday she said “the opt-out is a cop out.”

“The state is giving municipalities until late 2022 or 2023 to work out the zoning details for this legislation before the issue licenses,” she said in a statement. “Our time to put in the work as to where we want or don’t want retail and consumption is now. I have been in government long enough to know that this is just kicking the can down the road and the work will not get done before the licenses are issued. The state will be giving out a limited number of licenses and if we don’t have the rules in place, the delivery services will still be coming to Southold and we won’t get any tax revenue from it.”

Editor’s Note: This post was updated to include comment from Ms. Nappa.