The first medical marijuana dispensary in Queens finally opened Friday. But as Borough reporter Ruschell Boone explains, the customers so far are few and far between.
It was a quiet opening Friday for Vireo Health. There were few patients at the medical marijuana dispensary, but the executives did not act worried.
"Our experience working in other states, like in Minnesota, is that these things take time and that you need to be patient," Ari Hoffnung, CEO of Vireo Health said.
They say they are encouraged by the number of doctors who have signed up to write marijuana prescriptions, even though critics say the number is disappointing.
"Over 200 physicians have taken four hours of their time to learn about medical cannabis and to become certified by the state so that they can recommend medical cannabis to their patients," Hoffnung said.
The Elmhurst dispensary is the second to open in the city. The local state legislator says community concerns are easing.
"Once you take a look at the way the model is created here, it will reduce that alarm exponentially," State Assemblymen Jeffrion Aubry of Queens said. "This is a medical facility."
Patients need a prescription from a doctor in the program, and they must suffer from one of the qualifying illnesses, such as cancer or epilepsy. The drug is dispensed as a pill, liquid, or vapor.
And while Vireo Health did have a slow start, there were a lot of inquires about the program and about the facility
"I just came in here to find out about registration and see…what's the criteria," one man said.
The company is also fielding questions from doctors.
"They want to know about the research that surrounds this," said Dr. Stephen Dahmer, a Chief Medical Officer of Vireo Health. "They want to know about the safety profile. They want to know about interactions with other medications."
A common question: how quickly will the marijuana take effect? Doctors say 10 seconds for the vapor and longer for the other applications.
"The oral forms — because it does have to be swallowed and adsorbed through the stomach, much like other medications that you take orally — you might look at 20, 30 minutes." Dr. Laura Bultman, a Chief Medical Officer of Vireo Health.
Insurance does not cover medical marijuana, but there is financial help for those who need it.