Cannabis indica is the strain of marijuana that gives the user a "body high," which can be used to help medical marijuana patients manage pain. PHOTO CREDIT: FOTOBIAS
Cannabis indica is the strain of marijuana that gives the user a “body high,” which can be used to help medical marijuana patients manage pain. PHOTO CREDIT: FOTOBIAS

The fate of a new medical marijuana dispensary set to open in Riverhead is now in question as town leaders look to pass a moratorium, which would block the creation of the dispensary for one year.

Last Thursday, officials from the company chosen to run the dispensary, Columbia Care LLC, sat down with town board members to discuss the plans. In response to complaints from the community about the dispensary’s proposed location, a commercial area on Route 58 , Columbia Care said that it would look for alternative sites.

“It’s only a half mile from our schools,” said Kelly Miloski, a prevention specialist for the Community Awareness Program, an organization aimed at preventing drug and alcohol abuse among Riverhead students. “Kids will think using [marijuana] is normal, and they may start to use it more frequently.”

One of the proponents of the moratorium is Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter.

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“The last thing I want is for a public dispensary to be right in the middle of my shopping district,” he said.

Although Walter — who says he is “fundamentally opposed to medical marijuana” — would like to do away with the dispensary, he says he is open to relocating it to a district zoned for “adult uses, away from churches, schools, and synagogues.”

While location is one factor in the local opposition to the dispensary, there are other objections that may come up at the Sept. 16 public hearing to discuss the moratorium.

Miloski said she is also worried about the possibility of an increase in crime. Walter, who is running for re-election in the Republican primary for town supervisor later this month, said that most Riverhead residents he has spoken to echo these sentiments.

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“People are telling me—without being asked—that they don’t want this medical marijuana dispensary in our town,” he said.

The dispensary is a result of the passage of the Compassionate Care Act, which legalized the sale of medical marijuana in New York State.

Columbia Care released this statement to address residents’ concerns about safety: “Our Riverhead pharmacy, like all Columbia Care facilities, will be staffed by highly trained, state-licensed pharmacists and will provide quality medical services in a comfortable, secure environment. We’d be honored to serve qualifying patients in Suffolk County and look forward to becoming a productive member of this community.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act into law on July 5, 2014. It allows patients whose doctors certify that they are suffering from certain serious conditions to receive marijuana for medical use.

Nearly a year after the law was passed, the health department granted five companies — including Columbia Care — permission to operate these facilities in counties across the state. Permits are valid for two years, at which point the operators must re-apply to continue operation.

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The law will go into effect next year and will sunset after seven years.

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