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Town kills proposed moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries

10/22/2015 1:22 PM |

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A proposed moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in Riverhead is all but dead now that four Town Board members announced Thursday they’re against the plan.

Their decision came at the end of a heated work session discussion on medical marijuana featuring community leaders who supported a moratorium and those who are looking to open a dispensary on East Main Street.

Supervisor Sean Walter said during the work session that the board could vote on a moratorium as early as Nov. 4. Then, a few moments later, he and fellow board members Jodi Giglio, John Dunleavy and Jim Wooten said they would vote against a moratorium.

After the meeting, Councilman George Gabrielsen said although he doesn’t expect the moratorium to pass, he would support it because he has concerns over the dispensary’s proposed location since it’s near a park.

“A moratorium doesn’t even sound like it’s going to come up,” he said, adding that he doesn’t oppose a dispensary at a different location in Riverhead Town.

Since the majority of the five-member Town Board have indicated they won’t approve the proposed moratorium, it appears that a dispensary Columbia Care plans to open at 1333 East Main St. will continue despite community opposition.

As he stood up, Mr. Walter turned to Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita, who was given state approval to open a dispensary, and said: “You’re on your way, guys. File a building permit.”

Mr. Vita said the dispensary, which will be the only one in Suffolk County, will create 25 to 30 jobs over the next few years.

“The town did an outstanding job of reviewing the circumstances,” he said. “This is a real win for the Town of Riverhead.”

The decision comes two days after the Millbrook Gables Civic Association protested the dispensary’s location during a Town Board meeting. Members Keisha Washington-Dean and James Langhorn also attended Thursday’s work session to express their opposition to the proposed location.

Ms. Washington-Dean, who sparred with Mr. Walter at times during Thursday’s work session, said she was “very disappointed” by the decision because she feels the location poses risks to the Millbrook Gables neighborhood.

“Like anything else, you can get a prescription when you don’t really need it,” she said after the meeting. “So then you’re going to look to sell it right away.”

The dispensary plans to move into an empty suite at the offices of Eastern Long Island Hematology/Oncology, a major cancer treatment center led by Dr. Louis Avvento, who also addressed the Town Board in support of the dispensary along with Mr. Vita and Peconic Bay Medical Center CEO Andrew Mitchell.

Dr. Avvento and Mr. Mitchell said medical marijuana offers benefits to patients with certain diseases, especially terminal cancer patients who need relief.

“We need to have another drug available in cases where morphine is not available or not tolerated,” Dr. Avvento said. “Why have someone hooked up to an IV when you can take a pill? Having a drug like this really opens up the possibilities of better care. We’re really interested in reducing suffering.”

Mr. Vita said during the meeting that his company agreed to never use the dispensary for any sort of recreational marijuana. Columbia Care plans to open by Jan. 1.

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Photo: From left: Town Supervisor Sean Walter, Councilman George Gabrielsen, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita, Peconic Bay Medical Center CEO Andrew Mitchell, Dr. Louis Avvento and Millbrook Gables Civic Association member James Langhorn at Thursday’s work session meeting.

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