Jack and Kurt Van de Wetering came to the Greater Calverton Civic Association hoping to provide information to residents about their proposal to grow medical marijuana at their Edwards Avenue greenhouse Wednesday night.
After not getting the support they were looking for from the Town Board at a recent meeting, they weren’t expecting it at the civic meeting either.
“We’re not looking for support from the civic association, we’re looking for understanding,” Kurt Van de Wetering said.
But by the time they left, residents had already begun circulating a petition in opposition to the proposal, a petition they plan to send to the New York State Department of Health, which will decide if the project receives a license to produce marijuana.
It said the application the Van de Weterings filed to grow medical marijuana proposes to do so in a greenhouse that “sits in the middle of a residential area and summer beach community.”
About 17 people had signed it by the end of the meeting. There were about 45 people in attendance at the beginning of the meeting, when the Van de Weterings gave their presentation.
Initially, following the Van de Wetering’s presentation, civic association president Rex Farr said he didn’t think the association should take a position on the proposal because he felt it was “a very personal decision” that each person should make for themselves.
But when the association decided to take a stand on another issue later in the meeting, former Calverton resident Marilyn Marsilio questioned why no position was taken on the medical marijuana proposal when one was taken on the other issue.
Mr. Farr then asked if the group’s members wanted to vote to take a position on it. They did, and most opposed the plan.
The state will not allow medical marijuana to be smoked, but legal forms of it, for medicinal purposes, include pills, oils, vaporizers or other ingestible forms of marijuana.
Medical marijuana in New York State also will only be prescribed for a limited number of illnesses, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and Huntington’s disease.
“It’s not going to cure cancer,” Kurt Van de Wetering said. “It’s going to make their quality of life better.”
The Van de Weterings will be working with a Denver company, THC Health Inc., who have experience in converting the marijuana plant to edible forms.
But residents Wednesday night were concerned about security — specifically that people might be cutting across their properties to try and break in and steal the marijuana being grown by the Van de Weterings.
“Security is a huge aspect of this,” Kurt Van de Wetering said. He said the process will be very strictly regulated by the state.
There will be fingerprinting and screening of employees and only certain employees will be allowed in certain parts of the facility, he said. A bookkeeper, for example, would not be allowed in the growing area.
The marijuana would be kept on site in a safe that only a limited number of people would have access to, and that safe would be taken off site to the location of the dispenser of the drug.
The Van de Weterings plan to have lights that shine on the premises, security cameras, and buffers between neighbors and fencing to keep people out of the area where the marijuana is grown, which is only a portion of their overall property on Edwards Avenue.
They are applying to grow on up to 10 acres of the 22-acre property, but are initially planning to grow in only the 33,000 square foot greenhouse space, which is behind their main office.
The Van de Wetering proposal is one of 43 applications submitted statewide, and the state intends to select only five as growers of medical marijuana statewide. The decision on which proposals are choice is expected to come around the end of July. Each grower will be allowed to have up to four dispensaries statewide, and it will not be dispensed at the same locations where it is grown.
Asked about the benefit to the community, Kurt Van de Wetering said they have done many things to help the community over the years and the money derived from growing medical marijuana would allow them to do more for the community.
Odors emanating from the grow house was another concern cited by some residents. Kurt Van de Wetering said they will use carbon filters and ozone treatments to reduce odors. But residents said they wanted to eliminate, not mitigate, the odors.
“I do believe in helping sick people,” one speaker said (most speakers chose not to give their names). “I don’t support living next to that facility. I want to know how much worse it’s going to get. Will people be cutting through my yard to get to the marijuana?”
“Who will be looking in my yard?” another neighbor said. “Are they going to scope it up and down before they rob it?”
Jack Van de Wetering said security will be one of the most important functions of the proposal.
Residents suggested it should not be located in a residential neighborhood, and some suggested the town-owned Enterprise Park at Calverton as a better location.
(Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter has said he’s had two other inquires about growing medical marijuana and both sought to do so at EPCAL.)
Others asked why the Van de Weterings didn’t propose growing medical marijuana at their other Ivy Acres location on Sound Avenue.
Kurt Van de Wetering said they considered that, but felt the Edwards Avenue site, which is north of Sound Avenue, is better suited.
“People assume Ivy Acres is a very wealthy company,” Jack Van de Wetering said. “We’re just making ends meet.”
“Your survival on our backs just doesn’t cut it,” another resident said.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Kurt Van de Wetering confirmed that medical marijuana is largely a cash only business for the time being because most banks won’t accept money from the operation, since marijuana, while legal in some states, is still illegal federally.
He said they will have to devise a solution to that issue.