An Exclusive Look Inside The Bronx’s 1st Pot Dispensary

Michigan Pushes to Protect Medical Marijuana Dispensaries
Photo by Matthew Staver/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

New York City is starting to finally look greener! And Pharmacannis—the first New York State licensed dispensary allowed to successfully open up in The Bronx—is helping lead the charge. The Hunts Point medical marijuana dispensary was also given the OK to grow cannabis in the Empire State as well, with its growing facilities located in Hamptonburgh, New York.

This is a big step forward in the fight against prohibition, especially on the East Coast. Marijuana law (S. 7923/A.6357-E) or New York’s “Compassionate Care Act” is incredibly restrictive, if not the most restrictive in the US, especially when compared to states like Michigan and California which have much more leniency. With such a strict ailment list, a lack of doctors and nurse practitioners taking the necessary 2-4 hour cannabis course, and only having 20 dispensaries in the entire state, there is a very short list of patients who are currently on the registry.

As of July 12,  only 630 physicians, doctors or practitioners had registered for the New York State Medical Marijuana Program, and 5,702 patients had been certified by their doctors, and given the OK to use medical marijuana. The bill allows for more ailments to qualify over time—with the overall permission from the Health Commissioner—so those numbers will hopefully keep climbing. However, this law is only in effect for seven years until January 1st, 2023 and can be canceled any time before that, if the state feels the marijuana program is doing more harm than good. 

I was lucky enough to have a tour of the Pharmacannis Dispensary in Hunts Point several days before its grand opening. I was incredibly impressed upon entering the dispensary. There are two doors that you have to enter through before you are greeted by the front desk receptionist. Proper ID, credentials and paperwork get checked by a security guard before you can be buzzed into the front desk area. Security and surveillance are definitely top notch. There were at least three cameras that I could see before I even got to the front door. No one is passing by that side of the block without getting seen, that’s for sure.

At the front desk, I was greeted by three people. Two of them were retired NYPD police officers, and one was a pharmacist. I walked around to the waiting room, which was clean, bright and spacious with a lot of information on display—magazines, pamphlets and the Pharmacannis website displayed on a large Sony flat-screen TV.

After the brief tour of the front of the dispensary, I was invited back into what was called the “Consultation Room.” In order to get past any of the doors, you need a password, plus you need to scan your keycard. To me, this was the most interesting part of the visit. Once in the consultation room, you sit down and have a one-on-one private conversation with a pharmacist to find good recommendations about which strains, delivery methods and dosages will work best for you and how to properly treat and manage your ailment with the use of medical cannabis.

They also do something I have never seen done before at a dispensary, which is why this was my favorite part of the tour. Upon receiving your medicine from the pharmacist, you are given a paper for you to record your experience with the cannabis product and to return on your next visit. Good or bad, the pharmacist wants to know as much detailed information as he or she can—and so does New York State.

They are trying to get as detailed about every aspect of your experience from taste, overall effect, energetic or lethargic effects, cottonmouth, bloodshot eyes, munchies, just about everything that can happen to a person when they have THC in their system. They want to know what happens, how you feel, what do you see, hear, smell, taste, and if it’s helping or not. They want a database of as much anecdotal evidence from the medical cannabis patients in New York State as they can get possibly build. What exactly is the state planning on doing with all that information? We might be closer to state or federal scientific cannabis research than we think.

The last room I got to visit was where the pharmacist had his computer to check inventory, print labels, keep patients records on file and access the medicine he delivers to his patients. I wasn’t able to see any of the physical product because the dispensary wasn’t opening for several days.

Security, safety, surveillance and regulation seems to be some of the biggest priorities integrated into the Compassionate Care Act. Hopefully, when New York recognizes that cannabis isn’t as bad as it thought—when it sees the real potential or the money it can bring in—marijuana might be available to more people around the state in time.

Overall, this was a humbling experience to be able to have an in-depth conversation with the employees of the NYS Medical Marijuana Program and to get a tour inside of what most people will most likely never get to see in their lifetime. Currently, only 0.030% of the entire population of New York currently has access to the dispensaries, and I am incredibly grateful to have seen the inside of one in-person.

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