Roughly one year after New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo passed the Compassionate Care Act—which will allow doctors to recommend and prescribe medicinal marijuana for certain illnesses starting in 2016—New York State has finally granted its first medical marijuana licenses. Last Friday, a total of five organizations were selected to produce and distribute medical marijuana across the state. The companies that were selected include Bloomsfield Industries Inc., Columbia Care NY LLC, Empire State Health Solutions, Etain LLC, and PharmaCann LLC. Of these five, Etain and Empire State Health Solutions will operate dispensaries in Westchester County. The state plans to implement the program and begin distribution by January 2016.
For these organizations, the road to the license was competitive, to say the least. A total of 43 applications were submitted to the New York State Department of Health, and all underwent an extensive vetting process to determine which would be granted permission to dispense. The evaluation was conducted by a group of state officials from the fields of medicine, medicinal chemistry, architecture and code compliance, and quality assurance, among others. Each organization was given a score based on a wide range of criteria, and the top five finishers were awarded the licenses. According to Dr. Howard Zucker, the New York State Health Commissioner, “The five organizations selected for registration today showed, through a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation process, they are best suited to produce and provide quality medical marijuana to eligible New Yorkers in need, and to comply with New York’s strict program requirements.”
To be eligible to receive medical marijuana in New York, a person must be diagnosed with what the state considers to be a “specific severe, debilitating, or life-threatening condition that is accompanied by an associated complicating condition.” This includes conditions such as cancer, HIV or AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, neuropathy, or a spinal cord injury with spasticity. The complicating conditions recognized by the state include cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, and severe or persistent muscle spasms. Although this is how the list stands today, the commissioner of health has the power to add more conditions down the road. New diseases currently under consideration include Alzheimer’s and muscular dystrophy.
Etain LLC, which did not respond to requests for comment, is a locally based company with headquarters in Katonah. Their Westchester dispensary is planned for Yonkers on Nepperhan Avenue. Empire State Health Service’s Westchester dispensary is planned for White Plains on East Post Road. Although medical marijuana is unchartered territory for Westchester, county official Phil Oliva, a spokesman for County Executive Rob Astorino, is optimistic about its future. “It remains to be seen what economic impact this will deliver for Westchester County,” says Oliva. “But we do expect that the businesses will be good neighbors and that they will operate strictly within the confines of the law.”
Dr. Zucker is pleased with the announcement and progress that the entire state is making toward the legal distribution of medical marijuana. “Today’s announcement represents a major milestone in the implementation of New York State’s medical marijuana program and keeps us on track to have the program up and running within 18 months of passage of the Compassionate Care Act,” says Zucker. “I am proud that we are on course to provide certified patients with access to medical marijuana more quickly than any other state in the nation.”