Local Impact Of Medical Marijuana On A Small New York State Town

One year later, assessing the local impacts of medical marijuana

Fears voiced by community members and local officials alike about the impacts of the dispensary on public safety and community character have not materialized.

There haven been no incidents requiring police presence at or near the dispensary’s East Main Street location, Riverhead Town Police Chief David Hegermiller said in an interview.

When first proposed — for the vacant Route 58 storefront once occupied by Blockbuster Video — town officials objected and reacted with a plan for a moratorium. They cited traffic concerns as well as the location’s proximity to Riverhead High School, though the site met the regulations’ requirements for distance from a school.

The New York City-based Columbia Care, which won one of five licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana in New York, pursuant to a law passed by the state in 2014, offered the East Main Street location as an alternative. The Riverhead Town Board went ahead with a hearing on a proposed moratorium — and heard both opposition and support during an emotional public hearing in September 2015. The proposed moratorium did not garner majority support on the board.

New York Regulations

New York is in the process of changing its regulations to allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners to certify patients for medical marijuana use — as long as they are working for a supervising physician who is registered to certify patients.

Currently there are only 10 qualifying conditions for patient certification: cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, and Huntington’s disease.

The state is in the process of adding chronic pain to the list.

Marijuana ‘made a big difference’

The availability of marijuana has changed the life of a severely disabled local boy who suffers from seizures.

Marijuana has brought under control previously numerous and often violent seizures affecting Jared Behr, age 12, of Cutchogue.

His prior anti-seizure medications “had him all drugged up” and left him “all hunched over in his wheelchair,” said his grandmother and caregiver June Behr.

Her daughter, Heidi, an EMT with Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps was killed in an ambulance accident in 2005, when Jared was just a baby. Behr and her husband John devote themselves to their grandson’s care.

The marijuana they administer to their grandson is an oil that comes in a tiny syringe. They put it under his tongue every four hours. The oil is low in THC, the component of the drug that makes people high. Marijuana is legal in New York only in non-smokable forms.

Behr had to actively advocate to get the new drug prescribed for her grandson. When it was legalized, she said, “I just had a hunch it would help.” But Jared’s neurologist was “not a big fan of medical marijuana.

“I sat down at the computer and just started searching for marijuana doctors,” she said. That’s how she found Dr. Lynda Varlotta in Stony Brook.

“It was such a process to get the card to go to the dispensary. It took over a month,” even after the doctor certified Jared as a patient, Behr said.

The dispensary in Riverhead has been wonderful to deal with, Behr said.

“They are excellent,” she said. The first time there, “a guy came out to greet us,” she said. “He greeted us by name. They are all very nice and it was very efficient. They are very patient with you, even if you have a million questions — which we did,” she said.

“They really understand the value of what it is to the person that needs it.”

Columbia Care co-founder Nicholas Vita

Said in an interview last month the experience in New York and the opening of the Riverhead dispensary have been consistent with what his company anticipated.

“It’s been a modest rollout,” Vita said. According to the state health department, 705 physicians were registered for the state’s medical marijuana program as of October and slightly more than 8,400 patients had been certified.“Things have gone well in Riverhead,” Vita said. “Nothing we’ve seen would suggest there have been any problems. It’s a good complement to the oncology group” the dispensary is located next to, he said.

Columbia Care grows marijuana plants and manufactures the forms of the drug approved for medicinal sale in New York at a 204,000-square-foot agricultural facility in Rochester. Columbia Care operates three other dispensaries in N.Y. and locations in five other states as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

The company is planning to institute a delivery service in the coming year, which Vita said will alleviate concerns about community saturation.

“Everyone had their concerns up front,” Vita said. “I hope we’ve been operating the way they wanted.”

Source: Riverhead Local

by Denise Civiletti Dec 28, 2016, 7:00 pm

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