Riverhead became one of the first places on Long Island where patients can access medical marijuana on Friday, with the opening of Columbia Care’s cannabis dispensary on East Main Street.
Columbia Care is one of five dispensary companies chosen by New York State to provide medical marijuana under the 2014 Compassionate Care Act’s Medical Marijuana Program, which went into effect Jan. 7.
They also have dispensaries on East 14th Street in New York City, in Plattsburgh and in Rochester, where their cannabis is grown.
Another state-certified dispensary, Bloomfield LLC, opened a Nassau County dispensary today in Lake Success.
Riverhead Town had initially drafted a proposed moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries last year, but dropped the effort after the town board heard extensive testimony in September from patients who would benefit from the use of medical marijuana.
At the time, Columbia Care had been planning to move into the former Blockbuster Video building on Route 58, a short walk through the woods from Riverhead High School, leading to opposition from advocates against teen drug use.
The town board agreed to work with Columbia Care to find a new site, in the same office park as an oncology office at 1333 East Main Street.
The office, which will remain locked, with access only when patients present their state ID card, is calmingly decorated, with comfortable chairs and tables in the waiting room, an abundance of displays of succulent gardens, and wall displays showing close-ups of cannabis plants. The medical marijuana, which is tincture-based, is kept in a locked vault behind the pharmacy.
Councilman John Dunleavy and new Councilman Tim Hubbard were the only town board members on-hand for Friday’s ribbon cutting.
“We’d like to welcome Columbia Care to the Town of Riverhead,” said Mr. Dunleavy. “This medical office is gonna help people with chronic illness, people with serious illnesses and people with terminal illnesses.”
Mr. Dunleavy said he believes it is fitting that the dispensary be located in Riverhead, which is the Suffolk County seat.
“Finally, we’re Number 1,” he said.
Mr. Vita said the process of opening the dispensary has been “an amazing journey.”
“We’re grateful for the opportunity,” he said.
The office is currently open by appointment, and was expecting 15 patients Friday afternoon.
Scott Poretsky of Suffolk Healthcare Cannabis Alliance, who was on-hand for the ribbon cutting, called today “a great day and great history in the making,” but said there was still more work to do.
There is currently not a list of doctors who prescribe medical marijuana, though the state has compiled a list of ailments that would qualify patients for medical marijuana. Patients who are suffering from those ailments must receive certification from their doctor, and can then apply online for a state ID card making them eligible for cannabis at the dispensary.
Mr. Poretsky said his office will help patients who have documentation from their doctors receive their ID cards.
As of yesterday, 306 physicians statewide had registered for the state medical marijuana program, and they had certified 465 patients eligible for treatment. Medical practitioners can become certified to prescribe medical marijuana after taking a four-hour course offered by the state.