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Upswing in smoke shops on Larkfield Road causes concern, sparks action

Business by: Joanne Kountourakis, January 30, 2023

A crossing guard halts traffic in front of Oasis Smoke Shop, one of five smoke shops within 0.7 miles of Larkfield Road.

It’s become a common sight: two crossing guards stationed Monday through Friday at their usual location, the corner of Bellerose Avenue and Larkfield Road in East Northport, assisting middle and high school students across the street, right past one of the area’s many new smoke shops.

The crossing guards used to stand in front of Flowers by Fred, a family-owned and operated florist in business for nearly three decades before closing shop in 2020. The storefront remained empty until just a few months ago, when Oasis Smoke Shop took over.

Oasis is the latest addition to a growing smoke/vape shop trend in and around Larkfield Road’s business district – there are currently five smoke shops in the 0.7 miles between Bellerose Avenue to just south of Fifth Avenue.

The stores, which advertise everything from tobacco and kratom (an herbal substance that can produce opioid- and stimulant-like effects) to CBD and water pipes, most recently caused a stir when officers from the Suffolk County Police Department’s Second Precinct Crime Section conducted an investigation into 20 local businesses referencing the sale of marijuana products, vapes and e-cigarettes, and found that eight businesses were selling the products to minors.

The police department conducted the investigation, officials said, in response to numerous community complaints.

Criminal sale of cannabis
During this most recent investigation, an employee of Smokeez Smoke Shop at 324 Larkfield Road was charged with criminal sale of cannabis in the third degree. Smokeez is located on the west side of Larkfield Road, just north of neighborhood bowling alley Larkfield Lanes. A misdemeanor, criminal sale of cannabis in the third degree occurs when a person 21 years of age or older, “knowingly and unlawfully sells or gives, or causes to be given or sold, cannabis or concentrated cannabis to a person less than 21 years of age.”

According to reports, an employee of Evolve Smoke Shop, just .2 miles north of Smokeez, was charged with unlawfully dealing with a child in the second degree, also a misdemeanor. Under New York Penal Law 260.21, a person can be charged with unlawfully dealing with a child in the second degree if they own, manage or work at an establishment that sells alcohol and permit a person who is under the age of 16 to remain on the premises, or sell tobacco or a tobacco product to a person under the age of 18.

“Of particular concern are items that contain marijuana products sold in packaging marketed toward children,” the SCPD said in a statement released on social media. “Parents are urged to remain vigilant when giving snacks and treats to children, and to always read labels. Many products are designed to look like name brand food but can be dangerous if ingested by children.”

The other three vape shops along the stretch of Larkield previously mentioned, Oasis Smoke Shop, Legacy Smoke Shop and East Northport Smoke Shop, were not issued violations during the SCPD investigation.

Local response
According to officials with the Town of Huntington (TOH), the town attorney’s office is currently drafting language to address smoke/vape shops throughout the town. Supervisor Ed Smyth is working on the issue alongside NYS Assemblyman Keith Brown, a Northport resident, who told the Journal a follow-up meeting has already been scheduled with the supervisor, after which the officials should be able to discuss the situation in more detail.

The Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force (NENDATF) has also called for a “parenting listening session” on Wednesday, February 15, from 7 to 9pm in the district’s Brosnan building. “Due to the recent events in the Northport-East Northport community, we are inviting you to come and share your concerns with us,” reads an NENDATF flier shared on social media. Last week, the organization, which operates separately from the school district, began working on a stronger collaboration with district officials after four students were sent from the high school to the hospital via ambulance for, according to sources familiar with the incident, ingesting THC gummies.

Laws on smoke shop operations
According to a local law added to the town’s code in September 2016, location restrictions for hookah lounges and vape stores do exist. Establishments in this category are prohibited from operating within 1,500 feet of any park, playground, religious institution or school; they are also prohibited where there are residences within a mixed-use building, and no more than one vape shop or lounge can be located on any lot.

At least two of the smoke/vape shops on Larkfield Road appear to be operating outside of the current TOH code, specifically in their distance from the John J. Walsh playground, which sits adjacent to the East Northport Library. Another is housed in a building that has apartments. Whether or not town officials have a vetting process in place for these establishments, based on town code, is unclear.

Additionally, at least one of these local vape shops has publicly advertised products that are in packages mimicking candies popular among minors or in fonts that appeal to individuals under 21 years of age.

An employee of Smokeez Smoke Shop at 324 Larkfield Road was charged with criminal sale of cannabis in the third degree.

CBD and THC: What vape stores can sell
With the upswing in smoke shops in the community, concern about the sale of THC products, especially to minors, is also increasing. But what are the shops legally allowed to sell, aside from tobacco, to adults?

In 2018, the Agriculture Improvement Act, commonly called the “Farm Bill,” authorized the cultivation, production, sale and use of hemp-based products. The Farm Bill allowed for cannabidiol (CBD) and other products made from the hemp plant to be sold in supplement stores, health food stores, vape shops, and any other establishment across the United States (except for Idaho and Nebraska, who passed prohibition laws).

Under the federal law, hemp-derived products that contain less than 0.3% delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) by dry weight can be legally sold to people 21 years of age or older (an age requirement mandated by New York State).

Within these restrictions, hemp-derived edibles, such as gummies that contain some THC, but in amounts that are less than 0.3% by weight, may also be sold legally with no license requirements. Because the Farm Bill includes only regulations regarding delta-9 THC (the most abundant THC in hemp and cannabis), other hemp-derived cannabinoids with intoxicating properties in higher doses are also being sold in unlicensed establishments, including delta-8 THC, delta-10 THC, THC-0, and HHC. The 2018 Farm Bill will expire this year, and updated federal regulations regarding hemp sales are expected for release in 2023.

New York State has also issued further regulations on hemp-based products sold in the state. All products must, by law, contain QR codes that are linked to downloadable certificates of analysis, providing lab reports on the product ingredients and exact cannabinoid dosage.

Additionally, hemp-based products are not allowed to imitate candy labels, or use cartoons or other images popularly used to advertise to children – another concern voiced by locals and the NENDATF; as per state and federal law, these types of products are not considered legal to sell at all, even to adults. Products must also include the phrase “keep out of reach of children,” and provide the recommended serving and clear usage instructions.

New York cannabis legalization
In March 2021, New York State legalized the use of cannabis for adults 21 years of age or older. Since then, the state’s cannabis control board has released extensive regulations on the cultivation, production, distribution and sale of cannabis products, including smokable flower, edibles and tinctures.

Under New York’s cannabis bill, each municipality in the state was required to hold a public hearing on whether or not they would allow for the presence of adult-use dispensaries or consumption sites in their jurisdiction. Both the Town of Huntington and Northport Village “opted out,” thereby prohibiting the existence of these establishments locally, with an option to “opt in” at any time – after another round of public hearings and a vote among town/Village board members.

The only Long Island municipalities that opted in are Riverhead, Babylon, Brookhaven and Southampton; each township adopted legislation that will restrict where dispensaries can operate, requiring that they open in commercial areas and away from educational facilities or other areas where minors congregate. Brookhaven, for example, banned cannabis sales within 500 feet of homes and 1,000 feet of schools, libraries, hospitals, playgrounds, parks, churches and other gathering facilities.

To date, the cannabis control board has approved 66 conditional dispensary licenses in the state, including 14 Long Island businesses. So far, only two licensed adult-use dispensaries have opened in New York.

Licensed cannabis retailers have to follow specific requirements, similar to those selling hemp-derived products, including those related to product packaging; cannabis product packaging cannot contain any components that may be attractive to individuals under 21 years old, including cartoons, bubble-type, rounded, or block letter fonts, and bright or neon colors. Marketing, advertising and signage by licensed dispensaries must also comply with specific requirements to ensure they are not attracting minors.

Letter of the law
During its investigation, 12 of the 20 businesses surveyed by the Suffolk County Police Department were found to be in compliance with regulations. “The SCPD is happy to report that five of the businesses now in compliance had previous infractions but are now following the letter of the law,” the department wrote.

It is the responsibility of town officials, however, to ensure that each business operates within the codes put forth by the local municipality.