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Town considering moratorium to keep away medical marijuana dispensary


Two weeks after it was announced that a medical marijuana dispensary was approved by New York State to be placed in Riverhead, the town is drafting legislation that could put a halt to bringing the dispensary to town.

New York City-based Columbia Care was one of five medical marijuana companies approved by New York State to produce and sell cannabis in five counties across the state. Chosen as Suffolk’s only dispensary, the company said in late July that it planned to site its location on Route 58 in Riverhead.

Supervisor Sean Walter said at Thursday morning’s work session that he met with the company last week, and was told specifically where they plan on doing business: the former Blockbuster Video space, near Staples.

The conversation over placing a moratorium on dispensaries started about the town’s regulations over alcohol in town — namely, at public events such as this weekend’s upcoming Polish Town Fair. However, as the discussion ended, Councilman John Dunleavy changed the topic from alcohol regulation in town to medical marijuana.

“I think we should research some more before someone comes and opens up on Route 58,” he said. “With all the traffic coming from everywhere in Suffolk County, the roads can’t handle it.”

In addition to traffic, other concerns were expressed among members of the town board as well as Community Awareness Program executive director Felicia Scocozza — who was at the table to discuss the town’s alcohol policy.

A lack of tax revenue to offset the dispensary’s presence was mentioned by several in attendance. Per the state regulations enacted last year, medical marijuana distributors pay 7 percent tax to the New York State Commissioner of Tax & Finance. Of that, 22.5 percent goes to the counties where the marijuana is manufactured, 22.5 percent goes to the counties where it will be sold, 5 percent goes to the Division of Criminal Justice Services and 5 percent goes to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

Mr. Walter said that he was told by Columbia Care representatives that Riverhead would receive some revenue if the dispensary comes to town, and suggested bringing the company to a future work session.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, as well as Mr. Dunleavy, favored moving forward with a moratorium, though Mr. Walter said that approach could be considered shooting from the hip.

“We need to understand what it is we’re going to do,” he said. “I’m fairly certain whatever it is we’re going to has to be bulletproof. Because it will go to court.”

A representative from Columbia Care could not immediately be reached for comment.

Ms. Scocozza said in an interview following the meeting that fighting against medical marijuana “was not a battle worth fighting” — the location in Riverhead, however, is something that displeases her.

“We are growing the landscape for the future,” said Cynthia Redmond, a community prevention specialist with CAP. She noted that the Riverhead community already has the jail nearby, and social services located here.

“I don’t think other townships would sit by and let this happen,” she said.

Paperwork to bring the dispensary location at Blockbuster could quickly make its way through town hall, said Ms. Giglio, given the parcel’s retail use.

“They can just submit floor plans to the building department and be there within a matter of weeks,” she said.

Councilman George Gabrielsen was absent from Thursday’s meeting.

Councilman Jim Wooten said that he would like to “get all the facts. It’s easy to summarily dismiss this based on the fact that it’s a dispensary.”

Photo Caption: The site of a proposed medical marijuana dispensary in Riverhead, which used to be Blockbuster Video. (Credit: Joseph Pinciaro)

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