If Jack and Kurt Van de Wetering have their way, the first medical marijuana plants in Suffolk County will grow in a 30,000-square-foot greenhouse at their Baiting Hollow farm next January.
Jack Van de Wetering told the News-Review Thursday that he’s applying for a New York State Department of Health license to grow up to 10 acres of medical marijuana at his Ivy Acres property.
Mr. Van de Wetering, 74, said he and his son, 40, began the application process 18 months ago and will travel to the Department of Health’s headquarters in Albany next Friday to formally submit their proposal. State officials will reach a decision 45 days after that, Jack Van de Wetering said. He added that just five licenses will be issued in New York State.
“This will give good jobs to the local area, which is kind of depressed if you look at Riverhead compared to the Hamptons,” he said, adding that between 65 and 100 full-time positions would be created. “If it doesn’t happen here, it’s going to go upstate somewhere. And why let it go upstate if you can help it?”
If their application is approved, Kurt Van de Wetering said, his family could start growing marijuana beginning Jan. 1, 2016. They plan to initially grow the plant in an existing 30,000-square-foot greenhouse on their Edwards Avenue property. If demand heightens, they’ll be permitted to grow up to 10 acres of it.
“Don’t expect to see fields and fields of marijuana,” said Kurt Van de Wetering, who will manage the project. “We’re talking about highly intense, multiple crops at different stages of life in one structure that is highly secured.”
In June 2014, New York became one of 23 states to legalize the sale of medical marijuana. Locally, Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) voted in favor of the measure while state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) voted against it.
While they don’t know for sure if any other applicants from Suffolk County have come forward, the Van de Weterings said they’ve heard rumblings about a proposal at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. However, they have the infrastructure in place to start growing right away.
The Van de Weterings have already committed a significant amount of cash toward the proposal. It cost $10,000 to receive the 1,000-page application from New York State and it will cost an additional $200,000 for them to apply next week, plus $1 million in bonds. To date, they’ve also paid $250,000 in legal fees.
The Van de Weterings said Thursday they’ve approached a number of local elected officials and business leaders seeking support for their application. So far, they said, all appear to be in favor of the idea, with many promising to write letters of recommendation to the Department of Health. One of the people they met with was Ray Pickersgill, executive director of the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association.
“They’re gonna do it anyway in New York State, no matter what,” said Mr. Pickersgill, who said he needed to confer with other BID members before agreeing to write the Van de Weterings a recommendation letter. “I’m not really for marijuana, but as long as it’s heavily regulated, I think it’ll be all right.”
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said he’s also considering writing a letter of recommendation.
“It’s a very interesting proposal, certainly,” Mr. Krupski said. “We had a discussion about medical marijuana at the Legislature a year ago and there were concerns for the security of the product — that it doesn’t get out for recreational use — but the medical people I’ve spoken to have said [marijuana] is a valuable tool for terminally ill people.”
Jack Van de Wetering said having a local medical marijuana farm would benefit more than just patients: He estimates the project could generate about $400 million in annual revenue. He said Riverhead Town would receive around $4 million in tax revenue and Suffolk County would bring in about $11 million, he said.
The Van de Weterings said there won’t be a retail component to their proposal. Customers would have to travel to a dispensary to pick up their supply of medical marijuana, which they said would be available in liquid or pill form, per state regulations. They’re working with a medical company in New York City to handle distribution.
Jack Van de Wetering said he wouldn’t have supported his own idea about a decade ago, but attitudes are shifting, including his own.
“I thought this was the wrong thing going back 10, 15 years,” he said. “I wanted nothing to do with it. I thought whoever was involved with it should be in jail. But you start thinking differently as you get older and feel more pain and hear of people with cancer. Why should they be denied some comfort?”
His son agreed.
“We’ve always tried to be innovative,” Kurt Van de Wetering said. “This one is going to be a little more aggressive because it’s a brand-new industry within, as we feel, agriculture. There are still some taboos attached to it.”