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THE COURIER/Photos by Angela Matua
THE COURIER/Photos by Angela Matua
Vireo Health of New York, Queens' first medical marijuana dispensary, opened today in Elmhurst.

Queens residents hoping to find relief from chronic illness pain will now be able to purchase medical-grade marijuana in the borough’s first dispensary.

Vireo Health of New York, one of five companies in the state licensed to sell medical marijuana, opened up shop on Friday at 89-55 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst.

According to CEO Ari Hoffnung, patients who enter the dispensary will receive an experience that resembles a visit to a doctor’s office or pharmacy. Though there is still stigma related to patients who smoke marijuana for pain relief, he said, Vireo Health is trying to change that.

“The experience that patients will have here is fundamentally different than the images New Yorkers see from California and Colorado,” Huffnung said.  “There will be no joints here, there will be no pot brownies.”

Before patients can enter the dispensary, they will have to present a registry card distributed by the Department of Health (DOH) that indicates a physician has recommended medical marijuana as a treatment. Only physicians who take a 4-hour online class as part of the DOH Medical Marijuana Program can issue these recommendations.

The medication will be dispensed in three forms by licensed pharmacists over the counter after a consultation with Chief Medical Officer Stephen Dahmer. These forms include capsules filled with cannabis extract and coconut oil, a liquid form for those who have trouble swallowing and a vapor form similar to electronic vaporizers.

All of the products are held in a secure, refrigerated vault, according to Hoffnung.

Prices for each form will range by dose but can cost between less than $100 to more than $300. Hoffnung said the organization will also give discounts to patients who have economic hardship, but that ultimately, federal legislation should be passed to ensure that prescription drug coverage includes medical marijuana.

Laura Bultman, chief medical officer for the company’s Minnesota office, said her patients suffer from chronic and debilitating illnesses including children suffering from epilepsy. She said the product that the company grows in their Fulton County cultivation and manufacturing facility is free of pesticides, heavy metals and residual solvents.

“Each time you buy that capsule, it’s going to have a consistent profile,” Bultman said. “That’s an advantage that lab testing offers.”

Dahmer said he has been reaching out to physicians across the county and state to educate them about the medical marijuana program and so far, more than 200 doctors have signed up for the course offered by the DOH.

According to Dahmer, many people have been calling and emailing the dispensary to ask questions and for the first day, Vireo Health of New York has a “rather full schedule” of patients scheduled to come in. About 250 patients in New York have registered with the DOH to receive a registry card.

“What an honor it is to be here. We stand here on the backs of giants from politicians to advocates to our team that really brought us to this point,” Dahmer said. “[We will] serve a high-quality, pharmaceutical-grade product for patients with hopes that it will improve their quality of life and alleviate pain and suffering.”

The dispensary is open from noon to 7 p.m. on rotating days. Patients are encouraged to schedule appointments.

To learn more about Vireo Health of New York, visit their website here.

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