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Two medical marijuana dispensaries coming to Erie County

Two medical marijuana dispensaries in Erie County will by January begin serving patients with cancer, epilepsy and other serious conditions seeking relief from their symptoms. ¶ The state Health Department on Friday awarded medical marijuana licenses to five companies. None of the five is from Western New York, but two of the licensed companies – Bloomfield Industries Inc. and PharmaCann LLC – each will open a dispensary somewhere in Erie County. ¶ They are the only dispensaries approved to open in the area under the state’s restrictive medical marijuana law.

“The five organizations selected for registration today showed, through a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation process, they are best suited to produce and provide quality medical marijuana to eligible New Yorkers in need, and to comply with New York’s strict program requirements,” Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, said in a statement.

The five licensed businesses each will set up and operate one manufacturing center and four dispensaries throughout New York, and they must have their products ready to sell by early January. Patients and

other advocates who pushed for the right to use medical marijuana in New York welcomed the state’s announcement but said they remain concerned about rural and low-income patients having access to the drug.

“We will continue to press very hard to address some of the limitations of the program,” said Julie Netherland, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which strongly backed the medical marijuana law.

The five companies were among 43, including five from this area, that applied by the early June deadline for a license under the state’s Compassionate Care Act. The state Health Department disclosed only the applicants’ corporate names, and offered no opportunity for public input during the decision-making process, before selecting the five licensees.

The department’s announcement on the licensed companies included details on the scoring system used to rate the applications, in 10 categories ranging from security to financial standing. But at least one area applicant remains frustrated by how little applicants were told before Friday and by the failure to approve a locally based licensee.

“I think that, in a lot of ways, Western New Yorkers are once again left out of the forefront of innovation in New York state. I think that’s unfortunate,” said Dr. Ephraim S. Atwal, a Cheektowaga eye surgeon who, with his father, Dr. Amarjit S. Atwal, applied to open a growing facility in Wilson under the name Far(me)d New York.

The five licensed companies are:

• Bloomfield Industries, which will grow and manufacture the medical marijuana in Queens and set up dispensaries in Erie County, Nassau County, Manhattan and Onondaga counties.

Columbia Care NY LLC, which will produce the marijuana in Monroe County and dispense it in Clinton County, Manhattan, Monroe County and Suffolk County.

• Empire State Health Solutions, which will produce the marijuana in Fulton County, on the southern edge of the Adirondacks, and dispense it in Albany County, Broome County, Queens and Westchester County.

• Etain LLC, which will produce the marijuana in Warren County, near Lake George, and dispense it in Albany County, Onondaga County, Ulster County and Westchester County.

• PharmaCann LLC, which will produce the marijuana in Orange County, in the Hudson Valley, and dispense it in Albany County, the Bronx, Erie County and Onondaga County.

Most of the dispensaries are located in the state’s metro areas, with four in New York City, two on Long Island, three in Albany County, three in Onondaga County, two in Westchester County and one in Monroe County.

Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, a longtime proponent of medical marijuana in the State Legislature, said the Health Department should have approved more than the 20 dispensary sites across New York.

“In a state with 20 million people and 54,000 square miles, that will not meet patient needs, especially for very ill patients in rural areas,” Gottfried said in a statement.

The Health Department revealed few details about the licensees, and officials did not say where in Erie County the dispensaries will open.

The department did provide a list of the 10 measures that made up a 125-point weighted scoring system for the applications. The companies were assessed on whether they can produce enough marijuana to meet demand, ensure their product doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, already own or lease the buildings and equipment they need to make their product and whether approval of their application is in the “public interest,” among other criteria.

The five licensees had weighted scores of 90.59 and above. The top-scoring local applicant, Alternative Medicine Associates, received an 86.18.

“It’s interesting to see all of the numbers that are out right now with regard to how the Department of Health was grading applications. None of that was available to us when we were compiling the applications. So everyone was just kind of guessing what was important,” Ephraim Atwal said.

In addition to Far(me)d New York, the other applicants with ties to the area were:

• The aforementioned Alternative Medicine Associates, which includes Dr. Gregory Daniel, the former CEO of WNY Immediate Care, and Daniel J. Humiston, the founder of the Tanning Bed chain. That group wanted to open a grow facility inside the former Tyson Foods plant in Buffalo.

• Herbal Agriculture, which planned to partner with Colorado-based Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises, which has experience in medical marijuana, and Amherst’s Dent Neurologic Institute, to bring a research dimension. Herbal Agriculture is owned by some owners of Modern Disposal and has a greenhouse in Lewiston.

• Kinex Supportive Pharmaceuticals, a branch of the pharmaceutical company based on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus that is in the middle of a growth spurt in this country and in Asia.

“We respect the integrity of the NYS DOH application process and look forward to working corroboratively with providers of this product in New York and elsewhere globally to ease the symptom burdens of patients,” Flint D. Besecker, Kinex’s chief operating officer, said in an email.

• LabCare, which includes Dr. Kathleen M. Casacci, a dentist who practices in Wheatfield.

As many as 400,000 patients will be eligible to use medical marijuana under the law, according to advocates.

Patients will be given a registration card after getting approval from a qualified physician. The patient must be diagnosed with a “severe debilitating or life-threatening condition,” such as cancer, AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and epilepsy, according to the law. The law allows patients to consume the drug through an oil, pill or vapor, but not to smoke it, and it limits the number of marijuana strains that can be offered.

Buc Williams, a Lockport resident who works in audiovisual production, said his son, Thomas, who is 10, suffers from a severe form of epilepsy known as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, or LGS. Thomas’ doctors at Dent agree that marijuana would help control his seizures.

“They’re 100 percent for him using it because nothing else has been working,” the elder Williams said.

He said he’s been Googling the licensees to learn more about them. He said he’s glad Friday’s announcement gets his son one step closer to relief, but he still thinks the law is inadequate.

“I think they’re going to have to amend things as they go along. And I think they’re going to have to issue more licenses and, eventually, more strains,” Williams said.

Questions about what price the state will set for medical marijuana, and how and whether doctors will formally recommend the drug to their patients, remain unanswered.

Doctors need to be trained and educated in how the program will function, said State Sen. Diane J. Savino, a co-sponsor of the medical marijuana legislation.

“Without doctors, we don’t have a program,” she said.

Savino said she is confident the state remains on track to get medical marijuana into the hands of patients by January. That would be 18 months after the bill received legislative approval, a faster pace than the average of 25 months for other states that have legalized medical marijuana, she said.

And if the demand is there, Savino said, the health commissioner has the ability to expand the number of licenses in the future.

“For those who didn’t make the cut, stick around. New York is a big state,” she said of the losing applicants.