Ronnie Sousa decided to drop by one of Long Island’s new medical marijuana dispensaries on its first day of operations Friday and emerged two hours later with a bottle of medicated syrup and a new hope for her son’s epilepsy.
Alex, Sousa’s 29-year-old son, is one of the first patients to obtain medical marijuana on Long Island. Two dispensaries — one in Lake Success and one in Riverhead — opened Friday morning, ending years of waiting by patients and doctors for a new tool in treating cancer, epilepsy and other conditions.
“I’m thrilled to be able to start this. What a day,” Sousa, of Hicksville, said at the Lake Success office. “I’m on cloud nine. Now if it should only work, I’ll be euphoric.”
She visited Nassau County’s only dispensary, which is operated by Staten Island-based company Bloomfield Industries, as it opened with little fanfare in a temporary space in an office complex.
In Suffolk, Columbia Care NY LLC opened its Riverhead dispensary with a ribbon-cutting and media tours of the sleekly designed, 4,500-square-foot space attached to an oncology office.
Bloomfield and Columbia Care are among five companies authorized to manufacture and sell medical marijuana under the Compassionate Care Act, which was passed by the State Legislature in June 2014. Twenty dispensaries are planned statewide, and with Friday’s launch on Long Island, 14 are open.
“It was just what I expected actually — a medical facility,” Medford resident Donna Schwier, 58, said of the Riverhead facility. “It’s bright, it’s clean, it’s beautiful.” She hopes to eventually be able to purchase marijuana to treat her fibromyalgia.
Columbia Care overcame early opposition from Riverhead town officials and worried residents, including a one-year moratorium proposal and extensive negotiations about suitable locations.
On Friday, Columbia Care chief executive Nicholas Vita addressed reporters and demonstrated the dispensary’s stringent security procedures. Patients with state registration and identification cards must go through several rounds of verification, including showing the state identification cards before even entering the building.
Vita said there were 15 patients lined up for the opening day, adding that the facility is currently open on an appointment-only basis.
Bloomfield chief operating officer Colette Bellefleur said the company would have preferred to open earlier. The site faced multiple permit delays and zoning obstacles in North Hempstead.
“There’s always challenges when you’re trying to put something together in short period of time,” Bellefleur said.
Bloomfield’s temporary office space is located in the same medical complex as the 2,480-square-foot permanent space, which was approved this week by the town Department of Buildings.
Bellefleur said she expected visitation at the North Hempstead dispensary to ultimately be busier than the company’s two other New York locations, in Salina and Williamsville.
“It’s going to take a while, patients have to know we’re open, physicians have to get registered,” Bellefleur said.
As of Thursday, 306 doctors statewide had registered to prescribe marijuana and 465 patients had received doctors’ certifications, according to the state Health Department. State officials approved the use of marijuana to treat 10 conditions.
Only pill, liquid, oil and tincture forms of marijuana can be obtained by patients certified by their doctors and registered with the state. Smokable forms of medical marijuana are illegal.
Bloomfield is offering a medicated syrup but plans to eventually introduce three other products: an oral syringe, a vapor pen and an inhaler. Pricing will vary depending on dosage needs, and could range from $50 to hundreds of dollars, Bellefleur said.
Vita estimated a month’s treatment could cost $100 to $300, or about 95 cents per dose. Columbia Care works with patients to offer reduced pricing on a case-by-case basis.
State officials are weighing delivery options for patients who are bedridden or can’t drive. Patients may designate a caregiver with the state to purchase marijuana on their behalf.
Sousa is a designated caregiver for her son, who she said has undergone two brain surgeries and tried dozens of medications, with no success. She said the syrup, which cost her about $21, is their last hope to quell the hundreds of seizures Alex can have nightly.
“If this works, I want to shout it out from the rooftops so everybody could benefit,” Sousa said. “If this works, it’s a miracle.”
He was to start taking the syrup Friday night.