Elmhurst medical marijuana dispensary seeks to educate patients

Photo courtesy of Empire State Health Solutions

A medical marijuana dispensary set to open in Elmhurst on Jan. 5 will be more than just a place for people to get the prescriptions they need, according to the center’s chief medical officer.

Empire State Health Solutions (ESHS), the company running the dispensary, is one of five companies awarded an application by the state to manufacture and provide cannabis-based medications. The company beat out 38 other applicants and will open the dispensary at 89-55 Queens Blvd., across the street from the Queens Center mall.

Chief Medical Officer Stephen Dahmer will help oversee the dispensary and will interact with patients to discuss the specifics of their treatment. Dahmer, a board-certified family doctor, has studied the relationship between plants and people as a fellow at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. He has traveled to Brazil, New Zealand and the Palaauan Islands to see first-hand how indigenous cultures utilize plants for medical uses.

Most recently, he was an assistant clinical professor of family medicine and community health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

In an interview with The Courier, Dahmer stressed that education will be a large focus of the dispensary, and the staff at ESHS will work closely with patients to discuss subjects such as correct dosage of the medication, possible side effects and interactions with other medications. The dispensary will also have an adverse effects hotline and an email address where patients can contact staff to ask questions about their prescriptions.

“[We are] patient driven and that means that education is going to be a huge aspect of this, because even a lot of physicians don’t have a lot of education on cannabis,” Dahmer said. “We’re [really] focused on also knowing how this impacts patients and keeping a close eye on potential side effects and mitigating any side effects.”

Patients can only enter the dispensary if they have a special identification card and recommendation from their primary physician. The recommendation is based on one of nine qualifying conditions with four additional qualifiers, Dahmer said. The medications will be available in tincture, capsule and oil form.

ESHS is the sister company of Minnesota Medical Solutions, which has operated several dispensaries in the state since July 2015. Patients at the Minnesota dispensaries suffer from a range of diseases including intractable seizures, as many as 200 seizures a day, according to Dahmer, HIV, cancer and neurological disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Huntington’s disease.

The dispensary will employee a pharmacist, pharmacist technician and security personnel. ESHS will operate the manufacturing site in Johnstown, New York, at a 20-acre site. They estimate that the cultivation site will create approximately 100 or more jobs in the next three years. The company will also open dispensaries in White Plains, Binghamton and Albany.

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 23 states, including Washington, D.C. The legalization of medical marijuana is gaining traction, Dahmer said, and the movement to legalize cannabis in New York has been driven by a grassroots effort. Just recently, New York state officials announced that physicians who prescribe medical marijuana must complete an online course to become educated on a subject that was not covered in medical school.

According to a spokesperson for ESHS, the company has not faced backlash from the Elmhurst community and expects to attract only people suffering from serious ailments.

“We’re here in the interest of the patients that can truly benefit from medicinal-grade cannabis,” Dahmer said. “That’s the bottom line. We’re trying to safely, effectively get the medication in their hands and we want the community involved.”

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