Medical marijuana dispensary’s chief medical officer discusses Elmhurst operation

By Bill Parry

When the borough’s first medical marijuana dispensary opens on Jan. 5, near the Queens Center mall in Elmhurst, it will look like any other business on the outside and the inside will resemble a doctor’s office. The Empire State Health Solution’s storefront, at 89-55 Queens Blvd., will also have 24-hour security in place.

That is the message the company’s new chief medical officer, Dr. Stephen Dahmer, delivered to Community Board 4 last week in an effort to clear up any misconceptions about the operation.

“It is not a head shop, this is not California or Colorado, it is a patient-focused model built by physicians with a strict focus on the medical side of cannabis, not the recreational side,” Dahmer said in an interview. “The idea is to help people who are suffering that really need this medication the most and are allowed to receive this medication by law. That’s the public and the patients that we will be serving.”

Empire State Health Solutions was awarded the license to operate the dispensary this summer by the state Department of Health after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act into law in 2014. Its mission is to help New Yorkers suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease and any other condition added by the commissioner of the DOH.

Empire State Health Solutions plans to extract the compounds of the cannabis plant to produce permitted products such as capsules, oils for vaporization and oral tinctures, complying with New York state law that does not allow smoking the plant form of marijuana. The medical cannabis cultivation will be done at a production facility in upstate Fulton County.

The finished product will be dispensed discreetly at the Elmhurst facility under tight controls overseen by Dahmer.

“You will need a recommendation from a physician that will be part of a registry. You’ll come to the dispensary where you’ll show ID to be allowed access past the locked door,” Dahmer explained. “Once inside there’s a lot of interaction with doctors, scientists and pharmacists regarding usage side effects before you get the medication. There will be plenty of education.”

Damher was a board-certified family doctor in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, before switching careers to take over the day-to-day operation of the dispensary where only patients who are authorized to obtain medical marijuana or their certified caregivers will be allowed to enter.

“I would have no qualms whatsoever about this being in my own backyard,” Dahmer said. “That’s how confident I am and I’m a family doctor.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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