Pubdate: Mon, 03 Aug 2015
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2015 The Associated Press
Author: David Klepper, Associated Press


ALBANY, N. Y. (AP) - Tie-dyed they're not.

Entrepreneurs, physicians and wellheeled investors are among those 
authorized by New York health officials to grow and dispense medical 
marijuana, the latest sign that the industry has come a long way from 
its humble beginnings 20 years ago.

"You can't ignore that this is a billion-dollar industry," said Marc 
Ross, a New York City attorney who has studied the emergence of 
medical marijuana. "The big businesses are sitting on the sidelines 
now because they can't come out of the closet - not just yet anyway."

Of the five companies selected Friday that will grow and dispense the 
medication, three have significant experience in other states with 
existing programs. One vendor has three physicians on its board. 
Another boasts executives who have worked at Goldman Sachs and PepsiCo.

Since California's first legal medical marijuana dispensaries opened 
in 1996, 22 other states have passed their own medical pot laws as 
the industry evolved in the face of skepticism by investors and some 
in the medical community and a patchwork of conflicting state and federal laws.

Few states have a law as restrictive as New York's 2014 statute, 
which, for now, caps the number of dispensaries at 20 and requires 
the marijuana to be sold in non-smokable forms like oils and 
tinctures that can be ingested or vaporized. The dispensaries are 
expected to open in January.

The state's cautious approach reflects persistent concerns not only 
about the efficacy of the drug, but also about the risk that 
marijuana would be diverted for recreational uses. It frustrates 
advocates who note longstanding programs in many other states.

"It's not like we have to start from scratch," said Julie Netherland, 
deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Twenty-two other 
states have done this. We know a lot more about medical cannabis than 
we did back in 1996. The medical cannabis industry has grown in 

New York officials maintained that they're using lessons learned in 
other states to create a program that ensures people get medication 
they need for conditions such as cancer, epilepsy and AIDS while 
discouraging abuse of the drug.

The five vendors selected by the state were chosen "through a 
rigorous and comprehensive evaluation process," according to state 
Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

The winners are Bloomfield Industries, whose founder is entrepreneur 
Richard Yost; Columbia Care NY LLC, which operates medical marijuana 
facilities in four states and Washington D. C.; Empire State Health 
Solutions, which has experience opening a greenhouse and dispensaries 
in Minnesota; and PharmaCann, one of the largest operators in 
Illinois' program.

Executives at the companies said it takes much more than a greenhouse 
and a grow lamp to succeed in the business. Today's medical marijuana 
vendors tout partnerships with hospitals and boast ofWall Street 
business acumen. Columbia Care NY LLC is working with researchers 
from Mount Sinai Health System.

"Our commitment to sponsor research with our hospital partners will 
ensure that New York State will remain at the cutting edge of 
innovation by continually improving patient care," said Nicholas 
Vita, CEO of Columbia Care.

It's a big change from 20 years ago, when many in the medical 
community discounted claims about marijuana's therapeutic value and 
medical marijuana was dismissed by some as fringe science and a 
stealthy ploy for legalization.

The fifth vendor is perhaps the closest thing to a mom-and-pop 
business: Etain LLC is owned by Hillary Peckham and her siblings. 
Their interest in the industry began when their grandmother was dying 
of Lou Gehrig's disease and a doctor suggested marijuana.

"We watched that decline and had that experience of wanting to offer 
her anything that would have eased the suffering," Peckham said. "We 
want to help people get the medicine that can improve their quality of life."

Each of the five vendors will operate one cultivation facility and 
four dispensaries. Grow centers are planned for Queens, Orange, 
Monroe, Fulton and Warren counties. Four dispensaries are planned for 
New York City, with four more slated for the suburbs and the 
remaining 12 scattered throughout upstate New York.

Advocates predict the industry will continue to grow nationally and 
in New York, where there's already a push to allow more dispensaries.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom