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Medical marijuana dispensaries to open in Riverhead, Lake Success

An oncology office at 1333 East Main Street

An oncology office at 1333 East Main Street in Riverhead on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, where Columbia Care NY LLC plans to open Suffolk County's first medical marijuana dispensary. Credit: Newsday / Will James

Long Island’s two medical marijuana dispensaries are scheduled to open Friday, after companies authorized to sell the drug spent months navigating bureaucratic roadblocks and community anxieties.

Columbia Care NY LLC has planned a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. at its dispensary, in a Riverhead medical building that also houses an oncology office.

Bloomfield Industries, in a surprise announcement Thursday, said it will open a dispensary in a Lake Success office complex following permit delays and zoning obstacles in North Hempstead.

The Friday launch date means both companies will meet targets of opening by the end of January.

“Patients suffering from painful and debilitating conditions no longer have to wait for the treatment they so desperately need,” Bloomfield chief operating officer Colette Bellefleur said in a news release.

The marijuana distributors were among five companies licensed by state officials in July to manufacture and sell the drug under the Compassionate Care Act, which was passed by the State Legislature in June 2014. Twenty dispensaries were planned statewide, including one each in Nassau and Suffolk.

The law allows licensed distributors to sell the drug in pill, oil and tincture forms to patients who are registered with the state and have prescriptions. It does not allow smokable forms of the drug.

As of Tuesday, 292 doctors statewide had registered to prescribe marijuana and 409 patients had received doctors’ certifications to take the drug, according to the state Department of Health. State officials approved the use of marijuana to treat 10 conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and AIDS.

Plans for dispensaries on Long Island faced early resistance from officials in Riverhead and North Hempstead, pushing their launch dates behind 12 dispensaries that opened earlier in the month elsewhere in the state.

Riverhead officials proposed a 1-year moratorium on marijuana sales after Columbia Care’s plan for a dispensary at a former Blockbuster site on Route 58 became public in August. Town officials expressed worries about the potential for added police costs and the site’s proximity to Riverhead High School.

Representatives of the Manhattan-based company spent weeks negotiating with town officials over a suitable location before settling on a nondescript medical building at 1333 East Main St.

“We try to be very good listeners,” Columbia Care chief executive Nicholas Vita said. “We try to reach out to stakeholders on both sides of the aisle. That’s the only way you build consensus.”

Vita, who appeared at town meetings to address residents’ and officials’ concerns, said his task was “unwinding the stigma” attached to medical marijuana and explaining the differences between medical and recreational uses of the drug.

“This is a medical facility. This is not something else,” he said.

Bloomfield representatives’ talks with North Hempstead officials occurred behind closed doors in recent months. The Staten Island-based company will operate in a temporary office space until interior renovations at a permanent location are complete, town officials said.

Bloomfield’s temporary site, in an office complex at 2001 Marcus Ave., passed a building department inspection on Thursday. The permit for the permanent 2,480-square-foot space in the same building was approved Tuesday after several rounds of revisions.

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