An alternative proposed to the Route 58 location chosen by Columbia Care for Suffolk’s only medical marijuana dispensary has drawn neighborhood opposition before the site was even publicly announced.
The proposed new location in an East Main Street medical office building is too close to a neighborhood that’s struggled against illegal drug activity and also too close to the children’s playground in that neighborhood, according to opponents.
PBMC Health CEO Andrew Mitchell, who stepped forward at a town board meeting last month with an offer to mediate a solution between Columbia Care and the Town of Riverhead, said today he found the proposed new site through local commercial real estate broker Richmond Realty. A prominent Riverhead oncologist has his offices in the building, located at 1333 East Main Street.
“It seemed like a logical choice, since so many of the people who are prescribed medical marijuana are cancer patients,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell voiced support for a medical marijuana dispensary in Riverhead at last month’s public hearing on a proposed moratorium on establishing any such facility in the Town of Riverhead. The town board heard two hours of often emotional testimony that night.
Columbia Care, which would operate the proposed dispensary, is one of only five medical marijuana growers that have been licensed by the state to grow and sell the highly restricted drug. Its dispensary in Riverhead would beone of only two on Long Island and the only one in Suffolk County. When the proposed Route 58 location became public, there was opposition by members of the public, by the Riverhead Community Awareness Program and by members of the town board, which then moved to block the opening with a moratorium. To date, the moratorium has not been adopted.
The Millbrook Gables Civic Association has written a letter to the town board objecting to the East Main Street site and is circulating petitions against the choice, said Larry Williams, a Riverhead resident who said this afternoon he planned to deliver the letter and petitions to the town board tonight.
“It’s surprising that of all the places in this town where this could go, they’re talking about putting it near a neighborhood that’s had past issues with drug use and sales,” Williams said. “The site is less than 1,000 feet from a children’s playground,” he said.
The letter to the town board was signed by longtime Millbrook Gables Civic Association president Gwen Mack, Williams said.
“As homeowenrs and parents, we’e concerned about a medical marijuana dispensary located close to a neighborhood with 50 homes and close to a children’s park,” the letter states, according to Williams.
“We understand the need for it,” Williams said, suggesting that the drug should be dispensed by a hospital or a pharmacy.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said he agreed. “The way New York has chosen to handle this is a problem,” he said. Walter says he believes the state’s medical marijuana law is “just an incremental step to the legalization of pot.”
Dispensing the drug at a pharmacy is not possible because it is illegalunder federal law to prescribe marijuana and it’s illegal to distribute it. A pharmacy could lose the right to distribute legal controlled substances if it sells medical marijuana — even if it does so pursuant to state law.
Since it’s a federal crime to prescribe or distribute marijuana, the 23 states and the District of Columbia that have so far legalized the substance for medical use, must adopt elaborate statutory schemes for its production and distribution. They generally allow distribution only at sole-purpose dispensaries like the one proposed for Route 58.
Mitchell said he and representatives of Columbia Care are scheduled to meet with the town board at its work session Thursday.
Walter said tonight he would vote to impose a moratorium on the use in the town of Riverhead if two other board members were also willing to impose a moratorium on establishing the use here.
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