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Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Prepare to Open Doors in N.Y.

Armed with New York state medicinal marijuana licenses, dispensaries are gearing up to sell cannabis legally in the state in the new year.
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Armed with New York state medicinal marijuana licenses, dispensaries are gearing up to sell cannabis legally in the state in the new year.

The cannabis experiment continues as medicinal marijuana use becomes more widespread. New York state, as an example, has rolled out dispensary licenses and is getting doctors and patients on board. Startups are growing local product as rules require, and are preparing for consumer-facing dispensary openings next year.

In total, 23 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana use, according to industry watcher GreenWave Advisors. Four states and D.C. allow for recreational use.

One of New York state's five licenses to operate was awarded to health startup Vireo Health New York, formerly Empire State Health Solutions. Employees are preparing several dispensary openings — in Queens, White Plains, Binghamton and Colonie, right outside of Albany.

Vireo Health CEO Kyle Kingsley said its New York operation had its first legal harvest in November. All product sold under the New York medicinal program has to be grown in the state. (Vireo Health is the parent company of Vireo Health New York.)

"The average patient will be spending around $300 per month," says Kingsley, a former ER doctor who is running a similar operation in Minnesota, where the company Vireo Health is based.

"We want to make a system that is accepted by mainstream medicine to maximize patient access," Kingsley says.

Beyond Vireo Health, additional New York state license winners include Etain, Pharmacannis, Bloomfield Industries and Columbia Care, which will operate one of Manhattan's first dispensaries, right off Union Square.

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Here's how medicinal marijuana will work in New York state:

In order to receive medicinal marijuana, patients must have been diagnosed with a "specific severe, debilitating or life-threatening condition that is accompanied by an associated or complicating condition," according to the New York State Department of Health. This currently includes 10 different recognized conditions, among them are HIV infection or AIDS, cancer and ALS, among others.

Medical marijuana is not covered by health insurance, so this will be out of pocket for patients who are accepted into the dispensary program. Vireo Health NY also has a low-income program for qualifying patients, who will receive 10 percent off products.

Patients also will not be smoking the product because the popular form of cannabis consumption is not legal under New York's medicinal program under the 2014 Compassionate Care Act. Instead, approved uses of cannabis include liquid and oil preparations for consumption orally or through a tube, as well as capsules, according to the Department of Health, which awarded the licensees.

Both patients and doctors are preparing for the medicinal marijuana rollout, including classes for health practitioners. "Patient certification will begin shortly," a DOH spokesperson said by email.

"New York is a 'wait and see' as its medical marijuana program is one of the most restrictive in U.S.," says Matt Karnes, founder of GreenWave. "There remains uncertainty ... (around) the willingness of the medical community to recommend marijuana as an alternative treatment."