The Riverhead Town Board has asked its attorney to draft a potential moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, after representatives from marijuana dispensing company Columbia Care told Supervisor Sean Walter last week they hope to open a dispensary at the former Blockbuster Video shop on Route 58.
The New York State Department of Health announced in late July that Columbia Care had been selected to dispense marijuana in Suffolk County. Mr. Walter said representatives from Columbia Care called him last Friday to discuss having a discussion with the town board about their proposal.
But at the urging of Councilman John Dunleavy, board members agreed at a work session Aug. 13 to draft a several-month moratorium on allowing medical marijuana dispensaries, in order to research the effect they could have on the community.
The board asked Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz to prepare a draft moratorium that would be bulletproof in case the town is sued and has to take its case to State Supreme Court. The state court would be the highest court that could hear the case, since the sale of marijuana is not federally permitted. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law last summer allowing medical marijuana in New York State.
Riverhead board members held their discussion while Riverhead Community Awareness Program (CAP) Executive Director Felicia Scocozza was before them to talk about limiting youth access to alcohol in Riverhead.
“The more marijuana becomes normalized in a community, the more the perceived risk for youth goes down and the more youth use there is,” she said. “The next step is retail marijuana in New York State.”
Ms. Scocozza said that medical marijuana dispensaries will likely morph into retail marijuana dispensaries if pot is legalized in New York.
“There’s nothing that this particular business can add to our community,” she said. “It can be anywhere in Suffolk County. Why is it in Riverhead?”
She said the reason Riverhead makes sense for a dispensary is its proximity to farmland that could be used to grow marijuana in the future.
“There’s no reason not to say let’s have a moratorium,” she said, adding that the former Blockbuster Video location is already set up as a retail use. Without the need for a site plan, she said, a dispensary could be open in a matter of weeks.
Mr. Dunleavy added that, while Riverhead police will deal with any issues at a new dispensary, the town will see none of the tax revenue generated by the legal sale of marijuana. He said he believes Riverhead will be overrun with people looking for legal marijuana.
Mr. Walter said representatives from Columbia Care had estimated they’d have at most 10 customers per day.
“They would be willing to come to a town board meeting to talk to you,” he said. “I’m the first person to not want this to happen, but let’s bring them in and talk to them.”
“We’re all concerned about it, John. It’s our community too,” added Councilman Jim Wooten.
“Whatever it is we’re going to do, it has to be bulletproof because it’s going to State Supreme Court,” said Mr. Walter. “I will bring Columbia Care in to talk to us and I will have draft of the moratorium that I will show to them.”
“What if they don’t like it?” asked Mr. Dunleavy.
“I can’t imagine they’re going to like it,” said Mr. Walter.