ALBANY – A third site will be permitted to dispense medical marijuana in Erie County, with state officials Tuesday selecting a Syracuse company to open a facility in a former plumbing supply building on Seneca Street in Buffalo.
Terradiol NY expects to begin selling medical marijuana to patients who qualify for the state program sometime in November in the old Seneca Plumbing and Heating Supply building at 192 Seneca St.
The company will take up part of the first floor of a three-story facility being turned into a mixed-use building by Ellicott Development Co., according to John Vavalo, chief executive officer of the company, which will be growing its medical marijuana plants at a site in Onondaga County. The Buffalo facility will include pharmacy and research and development space.
On Tuesday, state health officials doubled the number of facilities permitted to dispense medical marijuana in New York State to 40, including the new location in Western New York.
“The addition of these registered organizations will make it easier for patients across the state to obtain medical marijuana, improve the affordability of medical marijuana products through the introduction of new competition and increase the variety of medical marijuana products available to patients,’’said Howard Zucker, the state's health commissioner, when announcing the selection of five new companies that will each be permitted to open four dispensing sites.
The decision comes after four of the original companies tapped in 2015 for the new program sued the state last spring to block the health agency from expanding the program. They claimed the state was flooding the market with new competition that would undermine what was at that point unprofitable operations in the fledgling New York industry.
State health officials, however, said the expansion was needed to get the drug into the hands of more patients who meet the program’s qualifications.
The state said 25,736 patients are authorized to be prescribed medical marijuana. That is up 72 percent since March, when the program was expanded to include chronic pain as one of the qualifying conditions. The marijuana drug, which can be ingested via pills, liquid and vapor but not by smoking, is also eligible for patients with severe or life-threatening conditions that include cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s disease.
The program has had some bumps. One company got into financial trouble and was bought out. Another closed one of its dispensing sites in Albany County and instead opened a facility in Manhattan.
Of the 40 dispensing sites currently permitted after Tuesday’s approval, three will be in Erie County. No other county in Western New York has a facility. The state, though, has approved the delivery of medical marijuana to patients’ homes.
None of the current or future manufacturing sites are located in Western New York.
In Erie County, MedMen Inc., which grows marijuana plants in a facility in Oneida County, dispenses from a site in Williamsville. According to a link on the state health department’s web site, that dispensing site is only open three days a week.
PharmaCannis, which has its manufacturing facility in Orange County, dispenses the drug from a facility in Amherst.
Joining those two companies in Erie County will be Terradiol NY, which will also have dispensing sites in Orange, Queens and Suffolk counties.
Vavalo, the Terradiol CEO and chairman, said in an interview Tuesday evening that he expects to employ about 12 or more people at the pharmacy, and perhaps double that amount in a clinic that will carry out research and development work with local colleges and health facilities.
Vavalo said his company avoided locating in the suburbs where "we can't get to the masses.'' He said the company looked for an urban location in Buffalo that would have access to both public transportation and highways.
The Buffalo Planning Board earlier this year approved a $5 million plan to redevelop the three-story, 15,000-square-foot building into a mix of office and residential space.
Shortly before filing a lawsuit to try to halt the expansion of the program, executives with some of the first five companies complained of a shortage of patients and physicians. They said that their operations were not breaking even and that the state should permit them to add new dispensary sites instead of letting five new players into the marketplace. Patients, meanwhile, have complained of high prices for the products.
"We are not surprised by today's announcement and remain confident that we will ultimately prevail in court. In the meantime, we will continue to work to make New York's medical marijuana program the best in the nation by providing relief to patients suffering from serious conditions like chronic pain, cancer, ALS and AIDS,’’ the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association said. The group represents the original companies selected two summers ago to grow and dispense marijuana.
Statewide, so far there are 1,123 health care practitioners – physicians and nurse practitioners – enrolled to certify patients to receive medical marijuana, according to the state health department.