New York Dips Its Toe into the National Flood Waters of Medical Cannabis

The Big Apple got a little bit greener today with the opening of its first medical marijuana dispensary, Columbia Care, after having passed the Compassionate Care Act in 2014.

Unlike West Coast marijuana victory celebrations, there were zero supporters cheering (accept those involved), zero patients lined up (it’s by appointment only, and there are limited qualified doctors at this point), and only a handful of bystanders had come specifically for the big event.

New York’s medical marijuana laws are considered some of the most stringent in the nation.

There are 10 qualifying conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, IBS, neuropathy and Huntington's disease. The relief provided by cannabis to those living with the aforementioned conditions have been life changing for the majority of said imbibers. However, also unlike most medical marijuana markets, cannabis itself is not available in smokable or edible forms in New York.

Columbia Care’s Pulitzer Prize-winning media wrangler, Peter Kerr, told HIGH TIMES, “This is very important: This facility at Columbia Care prescribes to New York State law. We have nothing to do with recreational marijuana or any other use of marijuana, there’s no smokable forms of marijuana or edibles. We’re a medical marijuana company and nothing else.”

The medicine Columbia is providing borders on pharmaceutical. Tinctures and pills with isolated and selected combinations of cannabinoids, including pot’s star, THC, are the only offerings.

To be fair, consumables just aren’t part of New York’s Compassionate Care Act at this juncture. When asked if they would consider expanding their product line to include natural cannabis if New York medical marijuana laws changed, Kerr responded, “I can’t answer that right now.”

However, Columbia Care’s fact sheet reads, “Columbia Care has never sold marijuana for recreational purposes anywhere in the nation and has no plans to do so. Even if the state would approve the sale of recreational marijuana in New York, the dispensary would remain strictly the source of a medicine for the treatment of appropriate patents [sic] with certain illnesses.”

It’s an ironic typo for this burgeoning age of medical and recreational cannabis acceptance across the nation. While cannabis remains a Schedule I substance, something with no medicinal value according to the federal government, studies are only recently emerging on efficacy and medical usages. 

The jury is still out on what strains, forms and concoctions work best for most ailments. Anecdotal evidence runs rampant, however, and the majority of those findings show that while breeding a cannabis plant to have higher or lower levels of certain cannabinoids, such as CBDs or THC, is very effective for varying conditions, isolating, selectively combining cannabinoids and patenting them without their working plant partners, like terpenes, has so far been, anecdotally, less effective against sufferers’ symptoms.

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer was center stage at the ribbon cutting and opened up to the gathered media outlets about having witnessed marijuana’s power as a medicine through friends who’d lived with HIV or AIDS. She was proud of her borough for its forward progression in providing the very ill with cannabis medications.

“Medical marijuana is incredibly important," she said. "Until I met people, I didn’t know the impact, but they were able to survive because of the health benefits of marijuana, and that’s why I’m here today.”

She spoke of her hope that health insurance providers would support medical marijuana along with the rest of the city.

“The only disadvantage of marijuana is that we don’t have insurance for it," she continued. "That’s the only problem. It is really good as a medicine.”

When HIGH TIMES asked Brewer what her opinion of the selective cannabinoid medications because of her personal connection and first-hand experience with the medicine in its whole plant form, she replied, “You are way too familiar with these issues. I need to know more than you do, and I don’t. I’d love to talk to you, but I just know my past experience with four or five people…” Then she gave us her card.

The beauty of the U.S.’s growing disapproval of the drug war and blossoming approval of marijuana is that studies will finally be conducted across the nation, and its dated scheduling will not be able to stand. Funding for medical studies have already become less dependent on positive/negative results, and the natural healing properties of cannabis will soon be able to be exploited to their fullest potential.

“We’re delighted to be here," Nicholas Vita, CEO of Columbia Care, told HIGH TIMES. "It’s a privilege to be here and I think it’s an amazing step forward and opportunity for patients.”

While exiting the dissipating scene, HIGH TIMES asked a parked cop what the temperature was in NYC law enforcement with the changes in pot laws, he started, “Me, personally, I have no preference,” before his partner on foot came up to say, “We’re not giving interviews on this.”​

(Photos: Kevin Schumacher)

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