Riverhead, PBMC, Columbia Care to Look for New Site for Medical Marijuana

Columbia Care Vice President Dennis Kunian, attorney David Gilmartin, Executive Chairman Michael Abbott and CEO Nicholas Vita at Riverhead's hearing Wednesday night.
Columbia Care Vice President Dennis Kunian, attorney David Gilmartin, Executive Chairman Michael Abbott and CEO Nicholas Vita at Riverhead’s hearing Wednesday night.

Riverhead Town, Peconic Bay Medical Center and marijuana dispensary company Columbia Care have agreed to look for a new location within Riverhead for a medical marijuana dispensary, after overwhelming public opposition last night to a proposed moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in town.

The town had drafted a one-year moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries after learning in August that Columbia Care plans to open a state-sanctioned dispensary in the former Blockbuster Video building on Route 58.

But after nearly two hours of testimony, almost entirely from medical professionals and people whose families have suffered from cancer, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury and were hoping for relief through medical marijuana, board members agreed to work with Columbia Care on a new site within Riverhead for the dispensary.

Riverhead Community Awareness Program (CAP) Executive Director Felicia Scocozza, who was the sole person who spoke in favor of the moratorium Wednesday night, argued that the Blockbuster Video location, which is a short walk through the woods from Riverhead High School, was too close to the school.

Town board members cited the proximity to the school, and the small parking lot that only allows egress through right hand turns, as reasons why the Blockbuster Video location wouldn’t work. But many in attendance thought that reasoning didn’t hold water.

Scott Poretsky addressed the board.
Scott Poretsky of Suffolk Healthcare Cannabis Alliance.

Suffolk Healthcare Cannabis Alliance director Scott Poretsky had rallied many of the supporters of medical marijuana who showed up for the hearing.

“What about this location is the issue?” he said, adding that he believed the town board had a “1930s mentality” about marijuana. “Can we get down to brass tacks? What is it going to take to change your minds?… Let these people get the medicine they so desperately need.”

Peconic Bay Medical Center Board Chairwoman Sherry Patterson read an impassioned statement about the benefits of medical marijuana for people facing cancer.

“We are here to report from the front lines of the war on cancer,” she said. “Cancer is not some hypothetical land use dilemma.”

Janet Romeo, who said she represented 15,000 people who suffer from seizure disorders, said access to medical marijuana, which can drastically reduce the number and severity of patients’ seizures, is a matter of life or death, and shouldn’t be delayed.

“A person can die from a seizure,” she said.

“This is not about whether it’s right or wrong,” said Ms. Scocozza, of CAP. “This is about a proposed medical marijuana dispensary behind the high school.”

She added that the town needs time to study the impact the dispensary will have on police and emergency services, when the town will receive no tax revenue from the sale of cannabis there, which many in the audience grumbled was an ‘insulting’ statement.

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Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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