Columbia Care, the city's first medicinal marijuana dispensary, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. (Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang)
The city’s first medical marijuana dispensary opens Thursday in Union Square, allowing qualified patients a new treatment for symptoms of medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
Columbia Care’s street-level facility at 212 East 14th St., will take patients in on an appointment-only basis. The 1,800 square foot office was designed to make patients feel at ease and safe when they pick up their prescription, according to Nicholas Vita, Columbia Care’s CEO.
“We wanted to make sure there is a community feel,” he said. “This is a very personal decision to make.”
The state legalized medicinal marijuana in 2014 and set a strict set of rules for how it is dispensed. Patients must suffer from a select list of ailments — including cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or MS.
After receiving a certification from a physician, they have to register with the state medical marijuana program. Once registered, they receive an ID card that they can use at the dispensary.
The Union Square office — which will be staffed by a pharmacist, a pharmacy technician, security guard and receptionist — includes a system where a patient’s ID card is scanned before they can enter the office. The waiting area was designed to be cozy and welcoming, according to the staff, with white walls, posters that display facts the office’s services and a TV that presents other information regarding the medical marijuana law.
Once in the main room, they will have a one-on-one talk with the professional staff about their prescription and their choices for the medicine, which comes in the form of tinctures (liquid extracts), concentrate for vaporization or capsules.
Columbia Care would not disclose what it will charge patients or where the marijuana is grown.
Vita said his organization has a wealth of knowledge and experience from operating dispensaries in California, Massachusetts, Arizona and other states.
“If someone has stomach cancer and they are trying to alleviate symptoms, we can use what we’ve learned from our other stations to help them,” he said.
Columbia Care didn’t divulge how many patients have appointments during its opening day but Vita said he doesn’t expect crowds around the block. The center plans on adding more staff members in the future, depending on the demand, according to a spokeswoman.
Two other dispensaries are set to open this year — one in Queens, and the other in the Bronx.
Here’s what you need to know about the state’s medical marijuana laws.
- Patients must suffer from these specific conditions: cancer, positive status for HIV or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy or Huntington’s disease.
- They must also have one “associated or complicating conditions:” cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures or severe or persistent muscle spasms.
- Patients must be certified by a doctor and registered with the state before they can receive their medicine.
- Once approved, they will receive a ID card and will be able to pick up their medicine the selected dispensaries across the state.
- The registered dispensaries can give up to a 30-day supply. A single dose cannot contain more than 10 mg of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive substance in marijuana.
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