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Company may find alternative site for medical marijuana dispensary


Officials from Columbia Care, the New York City-based company seeking to put a medical marijuana dispensary at the former Blockbuster Video site on Route 58, agreed to look for “two or three” alternative locations for the proposed facility. 

They hope to secure an alternative location before the Sept. 16 public hearing on a proposed one-year moratorium, the officials said at Thursday’s Riverhead Town Board work session.

Columbia Care officials also said they would provide support for other kinds of “legislation solutions” to address the town’s concerns. Nicholas Vita, Columbia Care’s chief operating officer, said the dispensary must open by Jan. 1 to meet the state’s requirements.

“We want to voice all the issues and concerns you may have and then talk about solutions and find a pathway that would really address any community concerns that may exist or concerns of this governing body to provide us with a pathway that meets the states deadline,” Mr. Vita said.

Supervisor Sean Walter said he prefers the facility moved off Route 58 to Enterprise Park at Calverton.

“Where you are doesn’t work,” Mr. Walter said.

The Blockbuster site would not require site plan approval from the town and could open sooner, Columbia Care officials said, noting that all the work would be internal at that site. Buying land at EPCAL or elsewhere or building a new structure for the facility would take too long and push the company past the state-imposed deadline, they said.

Mr. Vita said they have agreed to a covenant to never sell recreational marijuana at its Boston location and they would agree to the same in Riverhead.

One alternate location under consideration is the Dynamic Automotive property on West Main Street near Tanger Outlets. The site is owned by Ed Densieski, a former Riverhead Councilman and current town Planning Board member.

Mr. Densieski said in an interview that he reached out to Columbia Care on Wednesday to see if there was any interest in leasing his property, even though he said Dynamic Automotive is still in business and doing well. Mr. Densieski said he hasn’t decided if he will move Dynamic Automotive or retire if Columbia Care accepts the offer.

Columbia Care’s proposed Riverhead location is the only medical marijuana dispensary chosen by the state in Suffolk County.

The use is allowed following the 2014 New York State Compassionate Care Act. New York is one of 24 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow medical marijuana. Four states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized marijuana altogether.

Earlier this year, New York State sought proposals from companies to grow, manufacture and dispense medical marijuana statewide, and made its selections at the end of July.

The Town Board objected to the Blockbuster site based on its location, citing issues like traffic and its proximity to Riverhead High School.

Mr. Walter has said he opposes the legalization of medical marijuana, because he thinks it will lead to the “incremental approval” of recreational marijuana.

Mr. Vita said that people can’t just walk in off the street and get medical marijuana. They must have an ID card showing they have been approved by the state and they must present the card and another photo ID to gain access to the facility’s waiting room, he said.

“The door to the waiting room doesn’t open until the door to the street is closed,” he said. After that, if approved, they would be taken to a sales room.

“That’s not a pharmacy,” Mr. Walter said. “You just described a holding cell in a sally port for a jail. You didn’t describe a pharmacy. That’s why it should be put somewhere else.”

On the issue of whether it would create crime, Mr. Vita said there are so many security cameras on site, that in their other locations, crime is reduced near their facilities.

As for the issue of whether the facility would be a “cash business,” since marijuana is not legal federally and many banks refuse to deal with medical marijuana companies, Mr. Vita said they do have banks that work with them, and more than half of their transactions are done electronically.

In their busiest markets, they get no more than 30 patients per day, he said.

They are authorized to dispense the marijuana in four forms: pill, gel cap, vapor or a tincture.

Most of their patients are very ill, with diseases like HIV/AIDS, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, Mr. Vita said.

The Town Board still plans to move forward with the public hearing on the proposed moratorium.

It’s unclear it the board will proceed with the moratorium if Columbia Care presents a location officials approve.

Photo Caption: Columbia Care officials, including CEO Nicholas Vita (third from left) speak at Thursday’s Town Board work session. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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