Retail sales of recreational marijuana, or pot or, as the growing industry prefers it, cannabis, are not quite there yet on the East End, but got closer last week with a split vote of the Riverhead Town Board. Racing Riverhead is the Shinnecock Indian Nation, which plans to grow and sell marijuana; over-the-counter sales could come as soon as September, the Nation said. In Riverhead, at least, there is at least one more hurdle.
The law signed in March by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo creating a path to legalized recreational marijuana also gives opponents an opportunity to organize a ballot referendum with an up or down vote after local governments approve sales within their jurisdictions. But the law also provides a degree of cover for elected officials, who can simply let the Dec. 31 opt-out date go by without saying no. So the question is, should more places on the East End let the sale of recreational pot go ahead once the state develops new regulations for licensing, distribution, and even lounges for its enjoyment.
One of the arguments for doing so is monetary. The retail tax of about 12.6 percent on marijuana is to be divided among the state, county, and local governments. If a town votes against allowing sales it loses the chance at the extra revenue.
Recreational pot is already here, of course, and the instant it became legal to possess in New York, its availability skyrocketed. People who enjoy the high consume it in “edibles,” brought in from out of state, smoke it, or vape it in battery-powered devices. People who are already growing marijuana should be cautious, however; it remains against the law until a year and a half after the first retail shops open for business. Opting out does not mean that marijuana won’t be in any community — remote cannabis distributors could offer delivery to dispensaries or even individual buyers.
Given the tax revenue and the fact that pot is already here in a very big way, local governments should take a proactive stance. This should include protecting small-time growers by pushing Albany lawmakers to make the regulations more friendly to local entrepreneurs. It can also include zoning laws, limiting the size of marijuana fields so as to discourage big corporate growers from overpowering boutique growers.
Forget that we are talking about a mind-altering substance — the bottom line for officials is to support local business, keep money within their communities, and grab their share of the taxes.