City Council still undecided about pot sales


The Long Beach City Council, still weighing whether to reverse a decision it made in December 2021 to opt out of a New York state program to allow retail sales of marijuana, met with state cannabis officials Monday night and peppered them with questions about the control the city would have over the dispensaries that would sell it.

After a 90-minute session on Zoom at a council work session, the answer appeared to be that the city would have to abide by most of the rules set out by the state’s Office of Cannabis Management.

And after the meeting, which was attended by about 25 people — far more than the handful who usually show up at work sessions — council members seemed no closer than ever to making a decision on whether to reverse themselves.

Only three council members — Roy Lester, Karen McInnis and Tina Posterli — were present. Councilwoman Liz Treston had a problem with her wheelchair and could not attend, and council President John Bendo was on a long-planned vacation.

There were no votes taken at the meeting, and no decision made on pot sales.

“All information we get helps,” Acting City Manager Ron Walsh said after the meeting. “But we’re not at a point where we can make a decision yet.”

Aaron Ghitelman, a spokesman for the state cannabis office, said on Tuesday that Long Beach officials had requested the meeting.

Three state cannabis officials — Adam Slojanovsky, a program manager; Pascale Bernard, deputy director of intergovernmental government outreach; and Phillip Rumsey, manager of intergovernmental affairs, spoke for almost an hour, offering a broad outline of the state’s program.

So far, only two retail dispensaries — both in Manhattan — are operating in the state, Ghitelman said. New York has issued licenses for another 66, but they are not yet operating. That number includes seven on Long Island, also not yet operating. None of the seven are in Long Beach.

In December 2021, the City Council unanimously voted to opt out of the state program after holding two public hearings. Many at those meetings argued that the presence of dispensaries might lead to drug abuse in the city. Others said the program would bring much-needed revenue to the city.

Municipalities that opted out are permitted to opt in later, but once they do, they must remain in the program. “There is no going back,” Rumsey said.

Lester was animated about the state potentially re-establishing a time period for a referendum. In 2021, he said, that period was way too short. “They gave no time for the referendum period,” Lester said. “It was way too rushed.”

He asked if there had been any discussion of extending the time for municipalities to consider pot sales, or reopening it, but the officials said they didn’t have an answer.

Rumsey assured the council that the state’s Office of Cannibals Management works closely with local officials to make sure rules and regulations are followed.

“The main avenue for us to do this is to use current laws already on the books,” Rumsey said.

Walsh, who is also Long Beach’s police commissioner, asked whether the city had the right to change the state’s minimum distances from the dispensaries to schools and churches. Rumsey’s answer was no.

The dispensaries must be no closer than 200 feet to any house of worship and 500 feet to a school. Dispensaries must also be no closer than 4,000 feet to one another, which will prevent a potential “Starbucks effect,” with one on every corner.

Lester asked if the city could regulate dispensaries’ hours. Bernard said that they must be open a minimum of 70 hours a week. “You can’t make it 60 or 50,” she said.

Lester also asked also if Long Beach employees would be responsible for disposing the garbage from a dispensary. Bernard explained that the owner of the dispensary is the only person responsible for getting rid of the trash.

The dispensaries are also not allowed to have any neon or bright signs advertising their products, such as a giant marijuana leaf. They must also have either darkened windows, or otherwise prevent the activity and the products inside from being seen from outside.

No Nassau County communities have opted into the program. In Suffolk County, Babylon, Brookhaven Riverhead and Southampton have opted in.

Judy Vining, executive director of Long Beach Aware, which provides information about drug abuse, said, “The power is in the hands of the city. Our position is that legal doesn’t always mean safe.

“The real concern is the health of the city,” Vining added. “With increased access, we’re not saying that dispensaries are going to be selling to youth. We’re just looking for safety.”