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Potential pot growers get support from Cheektowaga Town Board

Pot could soon be sold out of a vacant former used car lot in Cheektowaga, and the Town Board is totally OK with it.

It’s lawful medical marijuana, and it will be prescribed and tightly regulated when it becomes available early next year to patients suffering from one of several conditions.

A local group led by two well-known eye doctors is reportedly applying for one of only a handful of state permits to dispense it. The Town Board on Monday unanimously threw its support behind Drs. Amar and Ephraim Atwal of Atwal Eye Care in Cheektowaga.

Under the name Far(m)ed, the Atwals are applying to the state Department of Health in hopes of being selected to grow and sell medical marijuana in New York State, according to a resolution passed Monday night.

The Atwals and Far(m)ed have leased the property at 6704 Transit Road – a former gas station and car resale center just north of the Thruway – for use as a dispensing facility, the resolution states.

Town officials say they like the prospect of an economic spinoff from the new industry coming to the town in the form of jobs and tax revenue.

“We looked at it and said, ‘Hey, this group is going to produce it locally in Western New York and create jobs,’ ” said Councilman James P. Rogowski. “And that’s the biggest thing – fill an empty building, produce it here in Western New York, create jobs for people and create a benefit for people on this side of the state.”

The Compassionate Care Act was signed into law in July to provide pain relief starting Jan. 16 to patients who have a “severe debilitating or life-threatening condition” such as cancer, AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and epilepsy.

Prospective marijuana growers must apply. The state will conduct background checks. Then those awarded the permits must secure financing, build or adapt buildings with strict security systems and hire staff.

After that comes the sowing of seed. It will take 12 to 15 weeks to grow and process the marijuana plants for the oil-based form of the drug that physicians will be allowed to prescribe.

Five businesses around the state each will be permitted to open four dispensaries for medical marijuana, for a total of 20 outlets.

The resolution notes that the Atwal family has experience in agriculture, owning and growing nearly 4,000 acres of corn and soybeans in Niagara County.

“This Board feels that the Atwals and Far(m)ed are uniquely suited to become a registered organization and dispensary for medical marihuana with their unique expertise in the medical field and agriculture,” the resolution states.

The selection process is expected to be extremely competitive, with potentially hundreds of applicants from across the state vying for the five permits.

New York’s program will feature strict integration: companies selected must run the entire process, from growing the plants to processing them into one of the permitted forms to running outlets that sell the product.

The law forbids the drug to be smoked. Eligible patients will be able to consume the drug through an oil, pill or vapor. Patients will be given a registration card after getting approval from a qualified physician.

It’s unclear how many of the dispensaries will be located upstate versus downstate, though the Health Department has said regulators will consider geographic balance when selecting firms and their dispensing facility proposals.

Rogowski said copies of the town’s resolution would be sent to state legislators, the governor and health commissioner.

“We’re asking for their support to fight,” he said. “If you’re in Albany and you’re saying you’re fighting for Western New York, well, here’s an opportunity to fight for jobs and tax dollars in revenue for the Town of Cheektowaga but also Western New York.”