Manhattan’s Union Square is known as many things: a gathering place for protestors, a home to a sprawling farmers market and a space for the “notorious” public art work Metronome, which its creator once described as “the most unloved piece of public art in the city.”
The neighborhood also boasts Manhattan’s first and only medical marijuana dispensary — Columbia Care, which opened its doors on East 14th St. last January to much fanfare and few patients.
The notoriously restrictive medical marijuana program in New York has produced far more stories of struggles for access than it has actual cannabis patients: With a population nearing 20 million, the state has fewer than 20,000 patients enrolled in the program.
But the 0.098 percent of New Yorkers who can legally enter a dispensary will be greeted by a sleek waiting room featuring mid century modern-style furnishings, a minimalist pharmacy area lined with white marble countertops and consultation rooms where patients can meet privately with budtenders.
Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita said the design and styling were meant to enhance the patient experience.
“A lot of thought goes into how we design our dispensaries,” he said. “We do everything in our power to streamline their experience… From making sure that every facility is handicap-accessible, to designing our dispensaries in a way that encourages a sense of community, pride and empowerment.”
But, because of New York’s restrictive laws, one feature missing from the facility is one that’s more or less a given at most state-legal dispensaries — actual cannabis flowers.
In April, a trade organization representing New York’s licensed medical cannabis companies filed a lawsuit on behalf of the five registered organizations. The complaint against the Department of Health seeks to stop it from licensing additional producers, arguing that expanding the number of licenses will have “devastating consequences” for the industry.
“Due to a slow-growing patient base… The [registered organizations] are still operating at a loss,” the lawsuit claims. “[They] will continue to operate at loss until patient counts increase dramatically from current levels.”
Columbia Care is the only medical marijuana company who has yet to weigh in on the issue, but the company seems undaunted by the state’s restrictive program.
“We continue to be very pleased by how Governor Cuomo and [the] DOH are looking at innovative ways to support the program,” Vita said, pointing to positives like the expanding the list of qualifying conditions and praising initiatives to bring “more doctors and nurse practitioners into the fold so that more patients can receive the benefits of this important medicine.”
There are only about 1,000 medical practitioners in the state who are currently registered to recommend medical marijuana.
While Columbia Care is currently the only dispensary serving Manhattan, Bloomfield Industries has a location “opening soon” in the borough. Until then, Manhattanites and other patients in the Big Apple will be able to take the train to Union Square for their non-smokable medical cannabis products.
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