Alarmed by Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Forest Hills

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In recent years, many Chinese families have moved to Forest Hills for the neighborhood’s tranquility, safety and high-quality public schools. But news that Curaleaf, a medical marijuana dispensary, plans to open a location there this summer has shattered the calmness. Many residents, Chinese included, worry that the dispensary will make the neighborhood a magnet for bad behavior. 

Residents said they were not informed about the plan nor did anyone ask for their opinions. They worry that the 3,000-square-foot dispensary, located around public schools, day care centers and senior centers, will have a bad influence on the neighborhood. And if drug addicts start to gather around the store, the safety of the neighborhood may be affected by drug dealing.

Becky DeKeuster, director of patient outreach at Curaleaf, said the dispensary meets all the state and city standards, and the company has gone through all required procedures to secure the location. The dispensary only serves patients with prescriptions, and it will host an open house during the testing period so residents and businesses nearby can visit the store and get to know the new neighbor. 

“No matter whether a prescription is required or not, I think a marijuana dispensary shouldn’t exist, period,” said Haitao Zhu, a resident of Forest Hills. He said once such a store is in business, people who need the products will come try their luck. And it will make the composition of people in the neighborhood more complicated. “What I worry about more is that the so-called patients with prescriptions cannot wait until they get back home and they start using the drugs on the street right after they get them. What a bad influence that would bring to the neighborhood.” 

Jing Zhang, a mother of two elementary school-aged children, said that the dispensary will be located right beside the Forest Hills subway station, a transportation hub for almost all the students in nearby schools. She said she dare not imagine how these children will be affected by the store. “The younger ones are naive. And it may be better for them,” said Zhang. “But the teenagers, they are curious about all the new things around them. It’s hard for them to resist temptation. What if someone buys the drugs and offers it to them as a freebie or resells it to them? What if they get addicted?”

“I wonder why we were not notified before it became a done deal that the marijuana shop was coming to our neighborhood,” said resident Shan Lin. She said on 70th Road, around the location of the incoming dispensary, there are a lot of schools, educational organizations and senior centers and not far from the location is MacDonald Park which many residents frequent. Although the store is for medical use only, she believes it will certainly attract all sorts of people who long for marijuana and the influx of these people will be a threat to the tranquility and safety of the neighborhood. If some of the customers resell the drugs to others, she said, the neighborhood may become the next drug war epicenter.

Many residents in the neighborhood have started mobilizing and reaching out to elected officials to fight against Curaleaf’s plan to open the dispensary. Toby Ann Stavisky, the state senator who represents the neighborhood, said there are 26,000 registered medical marijuana users in New York State. A patient can buy the products at a dispensary only when he or she presents their registration ID and permission from a doctor who has completed training to issue medical marijuana prescriptions as required by the state. Pharmacists who don’t ask customers to show ID will have their license revoked. 

Stavisky said that although Curaleaf doesn’t have to hold public hearings before it opens the store, it should inform the community in advance. She said she’ll watch the matter closely and provide any necessary assistance to the community.

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