Editorial: Don’t discount benefits of a marijuana center

It’s a far cry from potatoes. It’s not even grapes.

What could become the North Fork’s latest cash crop is something most residents are unaccustomed to. But its potential economic benefits shouldn’t be dismissed just because people aren’t comfortable with the idea.

We’re talking about marijuana, which New York State will allow to be grown and distributed for medical use starting in 2016. The application process will begin within months and five companies will ultimately be authorized to establish medical marijuana operations in the state.

As reported on page 3, the state Department of Health has released draft regulations outlining how marijuana should be grown, distributed and consumed. The application process will begin within months and five companies will ultimately be selected to grow and distribute medical marijuana in the state.

It’s hard to imagine a better production site than the Enterprise Park at Calverton, and pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer have already been suggested as ideal candidates to fit into EPCAL’s future. Marijuana might not fit into big pharma’s usual array of prescription remedies, but it’s certainly a growing field that attracts medical experts and scientists alike.

EPCAL has plenty of available land, owned by Riverhead Town, that’s not surrounded by the intense residential development that exists elsewhere in Suffolk, and certainly in Nassau County.

That’s not to say there wouldn’t be concerns, including the likelihood that large numbers of people would visit a site and walk away from it with drugs that can alter their ability to operate a motor vehicle. Then again, people are allowed to leave every 7-Eleven or CVS in the area with mind-altering alcohol, prescription or over-the-counter drugs in hand, so it’s hard to think of a marijuana distribution center as much different.

Given the state’s geography and population centers, it seems likely that a center will be built on Long Island — be it here, Yaphank, Brentwood or Bethpage. Potential applicants are already thinking about it. Evan Nison, director of Terra Tech Corp of California, a marijuana cultivation and distribution company, said his organization will apply for a state permit and will consider Long Island. He cautioned, however, that his company “would want the support of local leaders and politicians in that area.”

Our elected state and local leaders should consider the potential benefits to both Suffolk County and Riverhead taxpayers — as well as the jobs that would open up for people on the East End, which has long trailed its western neighbors when it comes to employment opportunities.