Pubdate: Fri, 08 Jan 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Authors: Jesse McKinley and Eli Rosenberg


ALBANY - New York joined the ranks of nearly half the states on 
Thursday in allowing the use of medical marijuana with the opening of 
eight dispensaries statewide, serving a variety of tinctures, 
concentrates, vapors and other forms of the drug.

How many patients actually received medicine from those dispensaries, 
however, was uncertain; several locations around the state had 
customers who entered, but it was not clear if any actually bought 
the drug, or were qualified to do so under the state's strict 
guidelines. On Thursday, officials at the state's Department of 
Health said that only 51 patients had been certified for the program 
thus far, though that process only began on Dec. 23 and requires the 
approval of a physician who has registered with the state.

Still, several facilities formally marked their openings on Thursday 
morning, including one on East 14th Street in Manhattan, a sleek 
space adorned with security cameras, and sandwiched between a health 
care provider and a falafel establishment. The site, run by a company 
called Columbia Care, which also operates facilities in Arizona and 
Washington, D.C., attracted several potential customers, including 
one man who showed reporters his purple and white New York State 
medical marijuana card. Photo

"I wanted to find out the pricing, I wanted to find out the 
availability, I wanted to find out what the deal with it was," said 
the man, 53, who declined to give his name for privacy reasons but 
said he suffered from neuropathy. "I spoke with the pharmacist, spoke 
with the people. They were as excited about seeing me as I was 
excited about seeing them."

A dispensary in White Plains was scheduled to open on Thursday, as 
well as two in the Buffalo area and two in the Finger Lakes region, 
including near Syracuse. One company, Etain, opened its doors in 
Kingston around 8 a.m., and then opened a second dispensary in Albany 
on Thursday afternoon. Others are also expected to open in coming 
weeks, as the program ramps up.

Permitted under a 2014 law signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, New York's 
entry into the medical marijuana marketplace comes after years of 
lobbying by lawmakers on behalf of patients, including children, for 
whom the drug is a palliative to debilitating illnesses. Yet even 
after the law's adoption, some supporters of the concept criticized 
its stringent regulations, including that only a limited number of 
conditions qualify for medical use of marijuana and that it is sold 
in only 20 locations statewide. The drug also may not be smoked in 
New York, a stipulation of Mr. Cuomo's approval, and must be 
processed into other forms by the companies that grow it.

All of which left even medical marijuana's most ardent supporters 
sounding somewhat bittersweet at the prospect of Thursday's soft opening.

"I think the glass is three-fourths full, maybe two-thirds full, and 
that is that it is going to benefit a lot of very seriously ill 
people," said Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, 
who first introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the 
mid-1990s. "But I think we can do better."

A late adopter to a trend that is now 20 years old, New York, in 
allowing medical marijuana, joins states as varied as conservative 
Montana and liberal California, which in 1996 became the first state 
to legalize the drug's use as medicine. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, 
Washington and the District of Columbia also allow the drug's recreational use.

Still, because New York is the home of the so-called Rockefeller drug 
laws, which set a punitive tone regarding drug use and users in the 
1970s, even a measured acceptance of marijuana here seemed 
significant to longtime advocates of relaxing harsh penalties for drug use.

"What makes it important is the prominence of New York City - 
nationally and internationally - and the significance of opening up 
legal medical marijuana outlets here," said Ethan Nadelmann, the 
executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which lobbies for 
changes in national drug policy. He said New York had been "a 
laggard" on medical marijuana.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, brokered the deal to allow medical marijuana 
at the end of the 2014 legislative session, but did so with a decided 
emphasis on security, asking for a provision that would allow the 
state to "pull the plug" on it at any time if public health or safety 
became threatened by the drug, which is still considered illegal by 
the federal government.

The program allows medical marijuana for certified patients who have 
cancer, H.I.V./AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, 
intractable spasticity caused by damage to the nervous tissue of the 
spinal cord, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies and 
Huntington's disease.

Also included in the list of approved ailments is amyotrophic lateral 
sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Hillary Peckham, 
the 24-year-old chief operating officer of Etain, said she opened the 
business with her mother, Amy, and her sister, Keeley, the company's 
horticulturist, after the family's matriarch, Frances Keeffe, died from A.L.S.

Etain was selected by the state in July as one of five groups to 
distribute the drug, and was given six months by the state to open. 
Hillary Peckham said they had put the final touches on one of the 
sites they opened on Thursday, in an industrial area of north Albany.

The freshly painted dispensary had no signs yet, but offered a clean, 
sparsely furnished waiting room to obtain the drug. Qualified 
patients enter a rear area to consult with a physician, who then 
delivers one of 10 approved brands that include sprays, tinctures and 
vaporizers similar to e-cigarettes.

Ms. Peckham estimated that an average patient might spend $300 to 
$1,200 a month on marijuana as medicine. And though the company had 
yet to make a sale on Thursday afternoon, she said she was excited to 
start business.

"I always wanted to make an impact on people's lives," Ms. Peckham 
said. "But I never thought it would be this."

Jesse McKinley reported from Albany, and Eli Rosenberg from New York.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom