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First NYC Medical Marijuana Dispensary to Open in January

Weed Entrepreneurs Gather in NYC at Cannabis World Expo 2:51

If there was any doubt about the national momentum on legalized marijuana use in America, consider this. There will be a medicinal marijuana dispensary right off New York City's Union Square come January 2016.

The dispensary on 14th Street between Second and Third Avenues will be run by Columbia Care, a New York City-based company that was awarded one of the state's five licenses to open a medicinal marijuana shop. The selections were made in July, and companies are moving forward on grand openings.

In total, 23 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York state allows for medicinal use under the 2014 Compassionate Care Act.

The New York state competition for five licenses was steep: 43 companies across the nation applied for five licenses. Each license allows for the operation of one manufacturing facility and four dispensaries, all of which must be based in New York state.

The New York licenses were awarded from the New York Department of Health. All five licenses were granted to companies that will be growing product in the state.

"We hope to move as closely to a pharmaceutical manufacturing process as we can," said Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita.

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Additional license winners are Bloomfield Industries, Empire State Health Solutions, Etain and Pharmacannis.

"The New York program is a symbolic step forward in terms of visibility and awareness," says Matthew Karnes, founder of Greenwave Advisors, an industry research firm.

Pharmacannis was founded in 2014 by two husband-wife duos, Teddy and Norah Scott and Christina and John Leja. The husbands come from legal backgrounds, having worked as intellectual property lawyers and the wives come from marketing and human resources and recruiting.

Christina Leja, Teddy Scott and Norah Scott of Pharmacannis. Lawrence Collins

"There is no doubt that people really see and believe this (legalized medicinal use) is actually working and doing something, but what people are missing is how and why it's working," Teddy Scott said. "That is where we are trying to take this right now. ... We can be leaders in the industry for respected purposes."

In some cases, company founders' first-hand experience seeing the medicinal benefits of marijuana persuaded them to launch ventures. Columbia Care's Vita says his mother used cannabis balm for rheumatoid arthritis.

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"We had immediate family members who were all affected by debilitating conditions, so medical cannabis is something they will be able to try once the product is available," said Pharmacannis' Norah Scott.'

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To be clear, under New York's medicinal program, approved uses of cannabis include liquid and oil preparations for consumption orally or through a tube. The Compassionate Care Act does not include smoking marijuana as a certified medical use, according to the Department of Health.

Both Pharmacannis and Columbia Care say they're focused on ramping up medicinal operations and are not exploring recreational ventures at this point.