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When the details of New York’s medical marijuana program were announced by the state Health Department they were met with hesitation. Dispensary locations, the scope of the program and the delivery methods were among the chief concerns as the rules were made public.

“The distribution of dispensaries around the state remains a major concern. Given the current proposed sites, there are huge areas of the state where patients will have to travel enormous distances to get medicine,” Julie Netherland, deputy state director at the Drug Policy Alliance, said when the state announced the five chosen medical marijuana producers in New York. “This is especially problematic given that many medical marijuana patients are sick and disabled and low income.”

Bloomfield Industries Inc., Columbia Care NY LLC, Empire State Health Solutions, Etain LLC and PharmaCann LLC were the five companies selected by the state to dispense the drug in New York. Those five companies are tasked with supplying the drug to patients across 62 counties and New York City’s five boroughs. However, according to information by the Health Department, the access provided by those companies will cover just 13 counties and two boroughs.

Dr. Kyle Kingsley, CEO of Empire State Health Solutions and its parent company Vireo Health, is optimistic that as the program matures more dispensary sites will be added. Kingsley was one of the architects of Minnesota’s medical marijuana program, which he says is “almost identical” to New York’s. Neither program allows the plant matter to be smoked and covers fewer medical conditions than many other laws.

Empire State Health Solutions will be manufacturing in Fulton County and dispensing in Queens and Broome, Albany and Westchester counties. Kingsley said that his organization chose Fulton County as their manufacturing site because “they embraced” Empire and worked closely with them to ensure a smooth roll out of the project. Fulton is a rural county about 60 miles northwest of Albany.

The dispensary sites were chosen by Empire in an effort to “maximize patient access,” Kingsley said.

Empire’s close working relationship with Fulton County officials and their experience in Minnesota in has Kingsley and his team confident that their sites will be patient-ready by the January, 1 target date.

“Barring grow failure, natural disaster or some other catastrophic failure…we will be ready by the first,” Kingsley said.

He is also confident that the Health Department will not shut down the program – a power vested to them in the law. Instead, Kingsley called these nascent stages “the first step in a very well-regulated medical cannabis program.”

“There will be no reason for the Department of Health to shut down this program,” Kingsley said. “If anything they are going to do the opposite and do everything they can to make this an effective and meaningful program for patients in New York.”

So far the results of Minnesota’s program have been mixed. On July, 31 the state Health Department’s Office of Medical Cannabis reported there were just 250 patients enrolled in the program with 334 doctors to serve them.

Kingsley suggests that other states with nascent medical cannabis programs, such as Louisiana and Nebraska, will look to the New York and Minnesota programs as “true medical models.”

“We see this as sort of a turning point for the cannabis industry,” he said. “New York has sort of turned the page on the industry of the past. Cannabis enthusiasts are going to have a tough time moving ahead in the industry getting licenses. It’s kind of moved to physicians, scientists and business people that are coming into the fold for real medical-model cannabis.”

Photo Credit: hjjanisch

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