Riverhead officials have tentatively agreed to site Suffolk's first medical marijuana dispensary at an oncology office on East Main Street, a development that pleased patient advocates but angered residents of a nearby neighborhood.
Four of the five town board members expressed support for the 1333 E. Main St. location at a work session Thursday, following weeks of disagreement over where Columbia Care NY LLC should open its facility in January.
The officials also indicated they would not support a proposed 1-year moratorium on dispensaries of the drug in the town, which has been debated in recent weeks.
"This is awesome," said Donna Schwier, a medical marijuana advocate who lives in Medford and attended the meeting. "This is going to help a lot of people in Suffolk."
But some African-American leaders in the town expressed concern Thursday that the dispensary was being thrust on the community of Millbrook Gables, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, that residents said has struggled with drug-related crime. The proposed dispensary site is across East Main Street from Millbrook Gables.
"I'm very disappointed in the outcome," said Kiesha Washington-Dean, who grew up in Millbrook Gables and represented the community at the meeting. "They didn't even give us an opportunity to talk about another location."
James "Butch" Langhorn, who also spoke for the neighborhood at the meeting, said he supported medical marijuana but urged the town board to reconsider the location.
"You don't want it in your neighborhood," he said. "I don't want it in my neighborhood."
Bessie Sanders, a registered nurse, said she has lived in Millbrook Gables for 48 years and has watched the neighborhood improve.
"I'm concerned it's going to bring more of a drug crowd back there," she said.
Columbia Care's dispensary -- one of two planned for Long Island -- would open in a 2,300-square-foot space at a medical office owned by Dr. Louis Avvento, an oncologist who has practiced in Riverhead for 28 years.
Riverhead officials had criticized Columbia Care's initial proposal to open the dispensary at a former Blockbuster video store on Route 58, citing concerns about traffic and proximity to Riverhead High School.
Avvento said Thursday that the site is a convenient location for patients seeking an important treatment. "A lot of my patients have asked about it," he said at the meeting.
Councilman James Wooten, a retired police officer who said he often worked in Millbrook Gables, said he didn't believe a medical marijuana dispensary would contribute to crime.
"It's not a narcotic. It's for comfort," he said. "I can't see that that dispensary, in and of itself, being part of a medical complex, would denigrate any neighborhood."
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said he is "the biggest opponent of medical marijuana" but would support the location because of Avvento's endorsement.