Long Island’s two dispensaries will not be part of Thursday’s launch of the state medical marijuana program due to community opposition, zoning obstacles and permit lags.
The state Health Department has released few details about how the program, signed into law in 2014 as part of the Compassionate Care Act, will actually operate. Specific information about pricing, delivery options for certain patients and certified doctors has yet to be provided.
Though eight of the state’s 20 dispensaries will open this week, late January is the soonest that Long Island residents will be able to obtain medical marijuana.
Julie Netherland, a director at the Drug Policy Alliance, said that patient access was a serious problem and that she had yet to speak with a patient who had successfully enrolled in the state program.
“Patients on Long Island and other parts of the state that are not near one of the eight dispensaries that are slated to open on [Thursday] are in a very difficult position and will likely continue to suffer without the medicine they need,” Netherland said.
A Health Department representative said Tuesday that the state has begun mailing patient registration cards.
To purchase medical marijuana, patients must first be certified by their physician, who must take a four-hour online course and register with the program. Online patient registration for the state program opened on Dec. 23. Eligible patients include individuals with one of 10 serious medical conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
Columbia Care NY’s Riverhead dispensary is slated to open at the end of January, the last of the company’s three dispensaries statewide, chief executive Nicholas Vita said in an interview
, adding that renovations have begun.
After Columbia Care’s plan to open its dispensary at a former Blockbuster site on Route 58 became public in August, town officials proposed a 1-year moratorium that would have blocked it from opening. Company representatives spent the late summer and fall negotiating with town officials over another location before settling on an East Main Street medical building that houses an oncology office.
In October, Staten Island-based Bloomfield LLC submitted an application to North Hempstead officials to open a 2,480-square-foot dispensary at 2001 Marcus Ave. in Lake Success. A town spokeswoman said Monday that the company is waiting on a permit to begin interior renovations.
In Bloomfield’s application with the state Health Department, it pledged to “assemble the best team possible to be prepared on Day 1.” The company announced in a Tuesday news release that it will open its Williamsville location on Thursday, followed by the Syracuse and North Hempstead dispensaries later in the month. Its Manhattan location will open in late February.
Columbia Care will open a Union Square location on Thursday. Later in the month, it will open dispensaries in Plattsburg and Rochester.
There are nearly 150 registered doctors eligible to certify patients, the Health Department said in a news release issued Tuesday. A representative said a list of consenting registered physicians would be posted soon.
Dr. Souhel Najjar, executive director of the neurology service line at Northwell Health, formerly North Shore-LIJ Health System, said there was a sufficient number of neurologists who planned on signing up, but that he was unsure when they would begin issuing prescriptions.
Though some Northwell doctors may soon be officially registered with the program, Najjar said his department will wait until the health system finalizes its own best practices and uniform standards, a multistep process he said will include “open discussion” across departments.
“It’s a decision we take as a system, not just as individual departments,” Najjar said.
With Will James