PharmaCannis opens a medical marijuana dispensary in Hunts Point

Emily Chiriboga

Hunts Point residents gather at PharmaCannis to register for a card that will allow patients to obtain medical marijuana.

A medical marijuana dispensary originally slated to open on Oak Point Avenue earlier this year has instead opened its doors on Hunts Point Avenue and Halleck Street. The new operation began business on Nov. 7.

The facility, operated by PharmaCannis, an Illinois-based medical cannabis grower and retailer, takes over a low, gray building just up the block from historic Drake Park. The Hunts Point location is the third licensed facility to open in the city under the New York Compassionate Care Act. The only other two are on 14th Street in Manhattan and in Elmhurst, Queens.

The facility was first supposed to be located at 1280 Oak Point Ave., but residents and workers in the area raised concerns and the company relocated to 405 Hunts Point Ave., a former strip club. Many residents who felt that the previous location was too isolated are relieved that the dispensary will be in a high-traffic area. They were nervous that the isolation of the company’s former choice of locations, and the fact that its transactions are in cash, would have made it a target for crime.

In July 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo passed the Compassionate Care Act, which allows a patient who has been certified by a health care provider to use medical marijuana. After being approved, the patient must register with the New York State Department of Health and receive a patient identification card in order to purchase products at dispensaries. Five companies have been licensed by the state, and each company can have just four dispensaries. PharmaCannis has three other locations in Albany, Amherst, and Liverpool, NY.

“Now that the program has been in existence for about 10 months, the general public seems to understand that this is a highly sophisticated, highly secure operation,” said Fred Polsinelli, a press representative for PharmaCannis.

In a curbside survey, it seemed that Hunts Point residents aren’t phased by their new neighbor. Damian Cruz said the dispensary could even be helpful by hiring Hunts Point residents and helping those who need the medication.

Restaurant owner John Fratelli admitted that at first, he was skeptical of a marijuana dispensary opening up across the street from his pizza cafe.

“A lot of people were nervous. We’re trying to clean up Hunts Point and anything with drugs…,” Fratelli said, implying the issues that the neighborhood has struggled with in the past. Still, he said, he’s not worried. “It might be a good thing. It’s creating jobs.”

The dispensary will open with five staff members including part-timers and a lead physician, but once business starts moving and the patient numbers increase, PharmaCannis will add to the staff, Polsinelli said. The dispensary is taking measures to ensure the safety and security of the building, including installing perimeter alarms and motion detectors.

“We’re fortunate in that our security team is led by a former army ranger, so we have a very high level of security,” Polsinelli said.

PharmaCannis hosted a block party two days before the opening, to educate the community by giving out flyers and having staff members meet with potential patients, explain the process and help them pre-register so that they will be able to have access to the facility once it opens. In order to purchase products at PharmaCannis, including pills, various vaporizers, and tinctures, patients need to be certified by the state, which they can do at this location.

In the state of New York, a person may be eligible to purchase medical cannabis if he or she has been diagnosed with a severe, debilitating or life-threatening condition from diseases such as cancer, HIV or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, and Huntington’s disease. The associated or complicating conditions are cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe or persistent muscle spasms.

The dispensary is currently only accepting cash, but the organization plans to change that in the future. “The entire state is a cash-based program and that’s really a result of the fact that cannabis is still federally illegal,” said Polsinelli.

PharmaCannis still plans to educate the community throughout its years of operation in the neighborhood. “It’s so important that people came and see what we’re all about,” said Polsinelli. ”We want people to learn, that’s the number one.”

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