ALBANY -- Nassau and Suffolk counties each will get one medical marijuana dispensary, but no manufacturing sites, state officials said Friday in announcing the selection of five companies to run medical marijuana operations across New York.
The announcement represented a major step in the launch of the new medical treatment program meant for patients with a variety of eligible diseases, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis.
Each company will run four dispensaries, for a total of 20 statewide. The program starts Jan. 5, or when the system is certified by the state Health Department and the State Police.
None of the six Long Island companies vying for the lucrative licenses was chosen. Forty-three companies statewide put in bids.
Columbia Care NY LLC will manufacture the drug in the upstate Rochester area and run four dispensaries, including one in Riverhead. Columbia CEO Nicholas Vita said the company is looking at a site on Old County Road as a dispensary location but plans to first do "community outreach." He called the dispensary "simply a pharmacy," and said support for medicinal use of the drug is growing.
"I think public opinion on medical marijuana has turned," Vita said.
Bloomfield Industries Inc. was selected to manufacture medical marijuana in Queens and run four dispensaries, including one in Nassau. Bloomfield, headquartered on Staten Island, didn't return calls or emails Friday.
The selection of the five winners completed a short, intensive competition in which companies invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to demonstrate viability. Companies had to show supply and research controls and have labor agreements in place, among other factors.
Two other winners will have manufacturing sites, or "grow centers," in the North Country, in Fulton and Warren counties; the third will be in the mid-Hudson region in Orange County.
Among the losing bidders was North Shore-LIJ Health System, which partnered with a Colorado-based cannabis company to form Silverpeak NY LLC to put together a bid.
"The North Shore-LIJ Health System and the founding partners of Silverpeak Apothecary believe they put forth a strong application that would have established a highly professional cultivation and dispensing operation to help eligible New Yorkers better manage the symptoms of their illnesses," North Shore-LIJ spokesman Terry Lynam said in an email.
"Although Silverpeak NY was not chosen to administer the program, we support the state's efforts and fully anticipate North Shore-LIJ physicians and patients will be participating," Lynam said.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, initially had opposed medical marijuana. But with support rapidly increasing among state legislators, he reached an agreement to launch the program -- although he has the power to quash it at any time.
Medical marijuana advocates applauded the milestone, but said they had concerns because New York is the strictest among more than 20 states with programs. "The distribution of dispensaries around the state remains a major concern," Julie Netherland, deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. The nonprofit backs drug policy reform.
"Given the current proposed sites, there are huge areas of the state where patients will have to travel enormous distances to get medicine," she said. "This is especially problematic given that many medical marijuana patients are sick and disabled and low income."