Michael Abbott, executive chairman, and Nicholas Vita, CEO of Columbia Care, which was approved by the state to site a medical marijuana dispensary in Riverhead. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The company approved by the state to establish a medical marijuana dispensary in the Town of Riverhead will explore locations within the town other than the former Blockbuster Video store on Route 58 it originally selected.

Town board members, concerned about that location’s proximity to Riverhead Central School District property and about traffic-logged Route 58 met with representatives of Columbia Care NY at today’s work session to discuss their concerns and their proposed one-year moratorium on the construction or establishment of a medical marijuana dispensary anywhere in Riverhead.

For at least two board members, Riverhead Supervisor and Councilman George Gabrielsen, deeper concerns center around what they see as the inevitable legalization of marijuana for recreational use in New York.

“This is an incremental approach to legalization,” Walter said. “So I have to figure out where everybody is going to end up. I want you as far away from the schools, as far away from the churches and synagogues as possible,” he said. “It’s not you… it’s where I see the future of this state going.”

“I agree with you 100 percent,” Gabrielsen said. “We all know where this is going.”

Columbia Care co-founders Nicholas Vita, CEO and Michael Abbott, executive chairman, tried to make the case that the dispensary is a specialized pharmacy, which is a permitted use in the town’s retail zone.

Walter, who at times was abrupt with the firm’s three officials and their attorney, said the dispensary is not a pharmacy, an opinion he said was reinforced by the company representatives’ description of security in the facility. Purchasers would enter a locked door upon presenting a special state-issued ID card. After clearance, they would pass through another locked door into a sales area where they would meet with a pharmacy technician.

“You just descirbed a sally port for a holding room in a jail,” Walter said. “Just because you have a pharmacist in it doesnt make it a pharmacy.”

Vita and Abbott said they would covenant that the company would never sell recreational drugs from the location.

“We think about our business as a health care provider,” Abbott said.

“I think we’re playing on words here, pharmacy or dispensary,” Councilman John Dunleavy said. “They both distribute medical stuff.”

Walter said he won’t back down in his opposition to the Route 58 location. He insists the dispensary belongs at the Calverton Enterprise Park.

But the industrial park is not serviced by public transportation, which Dunleavy and company officials said is critically important.

“Putting this, if I can say respectfully, in some backwater, which is going to be inaccessible to the vast majority of these types of patients, people who have chronic health problems,” Abbott said.

“We don’t want these people hanging around our kids,” the supervisor said.

“What does a cancer patient look like? What does an HIV positive patient look like?” Vita asked.

“If you’re going to ask me that question I’m going to tell you, from experience, cancer patients that I know that have been in my family were never getting on any bus anywhere and taking public transportation,” Walter said.

“The nice thing about civilized discussion is we can all have opinions,” Abbott said. “Are you open to listening to other viewpoints?”

Dunleavy, who initially proposed the moratorium, is reconsidering now that he has done some research and read the law, he said. But he, too, believes the Blockbuster building is the wrong site.

Vita said the company settled on the site because it is a freestanding building with its own parking lot and they would be able to construct the facility within its existing walls, bypassing any site plan review.

State law require the company to open its dispensaries by Jan. 1, Columbia Care attorney David Gilmartin said. Selecting any site that needs site plan approvals or having to construct a building at the enterprise park as the supervisor suggested would make it impossible to meet the state’s requirements — as would a moratorium.

Vita and Abbott agreed they would search out alternative locations and return to the board to discuss them.

“We have a public hearing scheduled on the 16th,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said, encouraging them to get back to the board before then.

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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.