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PHOTOS: Peek Inside Manhattan's First Medical Marijuana Dispensary

By Noah Hurowitz | January 6, 2016 8:17pm
 Columbia Care offers patients an experience somewhere between the doctor's office and the Apple Store
Columbia Care
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EAST VILLAGE — Manhattan’s first medical marijuana dispensary is set to open on 14th Street on Thursday as the state’s program lifts off for the first time.

Columbia Care LLC, a national company operating dispensaries in other large cities like Washington, D.C., will open its Manhattan location at 212 E. 14th St. near Third Avenue.

The Columbia Care dispensary functions something like a cross between a high-security doctor’s office and an Apple Store, complete with a sale room full of smooth white surfaces and iPads used to browse products and send orders to the staff behind the counter.

Patients with doctor certification must be buzzed in the front door, and they won’t make it past the front desk without handing over a state-issued patient card to be scanned. 

There are no doctors on staff at the dispensary, so patients will have to come already recommended. One would-be customer got an early disappointment Wednesday when, after asking about walk-in appointments, staff advised him to speak with his doctor.

But prospective patients will be able to talk with a state-licensed staff pharmacist. Consultations will take place in the main sales room, but patients looking for more privacy will also be able to speak with the pharmacist in a private room. 

With some of the strictest medical marijuana guidelines in the country, New York dispensaries are confined to selling cannabis in extract form. Columbia Care will provide patients with marijuana in the form of sublingual tinctures, pills and vaporizers, all grown and processed in the company’s manufacturing facility in upstate Rochester.

The demand might be out there for medical marijuana, but crowds of patients will not be beating down the door at opening time on Thursday, according to Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita. It will take time for patients to get recommendations from state-certified doctors, and for word to spread about the program, he said.

“We might get one or two patients tomorrow if we’re lucky,” Vita said.

When the operation is up and running, staff and the state-licensed pharmacists on hand will consult with patients about what delivery method will best work with their condition. New York allows cannabis treatment for 10 conditions, including HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, cancer, and multiple sclerosis, and the form of marijuana patients pick will likely depend on their symptoms and condition, Vita said.

“If you have lung cancer you probably won’t want a vaporizer, and pills might not be the best for stomach cancer,” he said.

Columbia Care was one of five firms to win certification under the 2014 law allowing the production and sale of medical marijuana, and got the go-ahead this summer to operate dispensaries across the state. Other dispensaries are slated to open soon in Queens, The Bronx and Murray Hill.

Bloomfield Industries, the operator of the planned dispensary at 345 E. 37th St. and First Avenue, is set to open open up shop in February, according to a spokesman.