Photo: Women's Alliance For Medical Marijuana (Wikipedia)

Medical marijuana won’t be grown in Riverhead Town but it will be sold here.

The state health department yesterday announced its selection of the five registered companies to be authorized to grow medical marijuana in New York State. THC Health Inc. which partnered with Ivy Acres of Baiting Hollow was not among the five selected.

One of the successful applicants, Columbia Care NY LLC will open a dispensary in Riverhead, at an as-yet undisclosed location on Route 58. Riverhead will be one of two towns on Long Island where medical marijuana will be sold, at least initially, as first reported yesterday by the Riverhead News-Review. The other Long Island dispensary will be in Nassau and will be run by Bloomfield Industries of Staten Island, which will manufacture the product at a facility in Queens.

Columbia Care will grow the plants and manufacture the forms of the drug approved for medicinal sale at 204,000-square-foot agricultural facility in Rochester, at the Eastman Business Park in Rochester, in a building where Eastman Kodak once manufactured photographic film. The Kodak factory was shut down several years ago. Columbia Care announced its agreement with Eastman Kodak announced in June.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said he was surprised by the public announcement that Riverhead would be the site of one of two L.I. dispensaries without first getting word from the state.

“The state once again shows a total disregard for local elected officials and municipalities,” Walter said.

But having a dispensary here is better than having a manufacturing facility, the supervisor said. A dispensary doesn’t come with the same security issues and won’t be dealing in massive amounts of cash, he said. Growers and manufacturers must handle large amounts of cash, creating security issues, because financial institutions run afoul of federal laws when they do business with state-licensed companies.

“With a dispensary, I’m assuming people will be using their medical prescription plans. I suppose it’s more like a pharmacy, which would be permitted under the town’s zoning on Route 58,” Walter said. He said he had not heard of anyone looking at locations along the busy commercial strip for siting a dispensary.

Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita told Newsday the company plans to do community outreach before opening its dispensaries — it will operate others in Manhattan as well as in the upstate counties of Clinton and Monroe.

The five companies chosen to grow and manufacture medical marijuana will each operate four dispensaries. Pursuant to state regulations, the drug will be sold only in non-smokeable forms, including pills, oils and vapors, and be accessible to patients with conditions including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies and Huntington’s disease, among others.

Vita said in a statement issued yesterday the drug treatments are “desperately needed for pain and suffering.”

“As New York begins this new chapter of patient care, we pledge to deliver safe, consistent medical treatments by developing the most secure facilities, offering the highest quality products and bringing the most experienced and professional staff in the industry to New York,” Vita said.

“The five organizations selected for registration today showed, through a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation process, they are best suited to produce and provide quality medical marijuana to eligible New Yorkers in need, and to comply with New York’s strict program requirements,” New York State Health Commmissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a press release yesterday.

In all, 43 applications were submitted. The evaluation process included a weighted scoring on criteria such as manufacturing, transportation and distribution, security, sales and dispensing and quality assurance, among others. The chosen five earned total weighted scores of between 90.59 and 97.12. Columbia Care’s weighted score was 95.08. THC Health’s application ranked 33rd out of 43, with a total weighted score of 74.25. See the state health department’s website for more information.

The detailed application consisted of more than a thousand pages, Jack Van de Wetering of Ivy Acres told RiverheadLOCAL in May. The process was exhaustive, he said. The longtime Baiting Hollow grower had hoped to garner support from the community and town government, but was largely disappointed when neighboring residents voiced opposition to the plan to site the facility on Edwards Avenue and the town board declined to go on record supporting the idea. It’s not clear how much that opposition factored into the result, however. “Public interest” was one of four items listed as “miscellaneous” evaluation criteria collectively accorded 4 percent of an applicant’s score.

Under state legislation passed last year and health department regulations adopted earlier this year, the five registered companies must begin selling the drug by Jan. 1.

Support local journalism.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.

Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.