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Amherst to host both WNY medical marijuana dispensaries

Two medical marijuana dispensaries will open in Amherst in January, the only locations in the eight-county region where the drug will be available.

One shop will be located in the Northpointe Commerce Park in northern Amherst and one on South Union Road in Williamsville.

A medical marijuana advocate said the close geographic proximity of the two dispensaries doesn’t serve well the many people in the area who need access to the drug but who live outside metro Buffalo and it highlights the flaws in the state’s restrictive medical marijuana program.

“It’s really disappointing and poses a huge problem for patients in Western New York,” said Julie Netherland, deputy state director for New York of the Drug Policy Alliance.

A state Health Department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The Health Department in late July approved two companies to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Erie County. PharmaCann LLC of Illinois said in August it plans to open a dispensary in the office park at 25 Northpointe Parkway, near the intersection of Sweet Home and North French roads.

Bloomfield Industries this week received permission to begin renovations on a portion of the former Stereo Advantage building it is leasing at 52 S. Union Road, near Main Street, which Iskalo Development Corp. has turned into medical and professional offices.

The company had wanted to locate the dispensary in a population center in Erie County and in a building that provided other medical services, said Natalie Shelpuk, a spokeswoman for Staten Island-based Bloomfield.

“It’s all about making it easy for the patients,” Shelpuk said. The medical marijuana law also restricted where the dispensary could go, barring it from being too close to a school or church, for example.

The two Erie County dispensaries are the only ones approved for the eight counties of Western New York. In all, the medical marijuana law allows for 20 dispensaries across the state that will be served by five medical marijuana manufacturers, far too few according to Netherland and other advocates.

The dispensaries are set to open by January, though questions remain about how the law, one of the more restrictive such laws in the country, will be put into effect.

The licensed companies may struggle to make a profit since the state still must approve prices for the drugs. It is also not known how many patients will receive prescriptions, and whether health insurance companies will cover medical marijuana.

In one development, however, the Health Department on Wednesday launched the online training program that doctors are required to take before they can prescribe medical marijuana to their patients. The course, provided by the online medical education site TheAnswerPage, lasts about four hours and costs $249. It covers the pharmacology of marijuana, side effects, adverse reactions, dosing, overdose prevention and other topics, according to the Health Department website.

The Drug Policy Alliance, which alerted reporters to the department’s action, said it remains concerned the department will not meet its goal of getting medical marijuana in the hands of patients by January.