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Town Board pushing ahead with one-year medical marijuana moratorium

08/27/2015 1:48 PM |

GRANT PARPAN PHOTOThe site of a proposed medical marijuana dispensary in Riverhead on Route 58, which used to be Blockbuster Video.

The Riverhead Town Board is planning to call a Sept. 16 public hearing to discuss a one-year moratorium on “the establishment, location, construction, use or operation” of a medical marijuana dispensary anywhere in town. 

The move, which is expected to be voted on Tuesday, comes on the heels of Columbia Care LLC proposing to build a medical marijuana dispensary in the former Blockbuster Video site on Route 58.

Town officials say their zoning, most of which was adopted in 2004, makes no mention of that use, and that they will need at least a year to study the potential impacts, as well to determine what zoning such a use should be permitted in.

While marijuana is still illegal under federal law, New York passed the “Compassionate Care Act” in June 2014, which allows a limited number of locations to grow medical marijuana, and a limited number of locations to dispense it to patients — though not in smokable form — with a prescription.

The Blockbuster site, owned by Riverhead Plaza, is one of 20 medical marijuana dispensaries that will be allowed statewide and the only one proposed for Suffolk County. Five companies will be allowed to manufacture medical marijuana, each at a separate site in the state. None of those are in Suffolk County.

“We’re not trying to block it, we’re trying to get a good location for it,” Councilman John Dunleavy said at Thursday’s work session, where the moratorium was discussed. He said he personally favors medical marijuana.

Councilman George Gabrielsen said the proposed location is just about 600 feet from Riverhead School District property.

Town officials initially planned to make the moratorium six months. They changed it to one year after discussing it with deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti and Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz.

Ms. Prudenti said the town not only has to study the impact of the proposed facility and where that use would be best situated, it also has to adopt new zoning within the time frame of the moratorium.

In addition, the town will need to find information like the hours of operation of the proposed facility and the number of patients expected to go there before it can do the study. Officials felt six months wasn’t enough time.

Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio both said they expect the town will be sued over the moratorium, but Mr. Kozakiewicz said there is nothing in the law that says the state law supercedes the town in this instance.

Representatives of Columbia Care were invited to the meeting but did not attend, according to Mr. Gabrielsen.

Columbia Care representatives had not immediately responded to an email from the News-Review seeking comment on the town’s action.

The board plans to vote at its meeting on Tuesday to schedule the Sept. 16 public hearing. The public hearing would start at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday rather than the normal Tuesday meeting date.

Photo Caption: The site of the proposed medical marijuana dispensary on Route 58. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

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