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Southern Tier's First Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens in JC

By Kerry Longobucco.
Johnson City is home to the area's first medical marijuana dispensary. Vireo Health of New York officially opened its doors Thursday morning.

New York is the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana. But state law guarantees the Harry L. Drive dispensary is a far cry from the kind you might find in Colorado or California -- with no joints or pot brownies to be found.

"This surely is the strictest medical marijuana program in the country -- the governor was adamant that we start out this way," Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D) said.

The physician who developed these medications says he's proud to bring a cautious approach to medical cannabis.

"What makes this a little bit more cautious are the number of ailments that are qualified for patients to receive medical marijuana. Those are just 10 ailments in New York State," Dr. Stephen Dahmer, Vireo Health New York's chief medical officer said. "The other thing are the regulations surrounding the production of our medications."

New York State prohibits smoking the actual marijuana plant -- so oils are extracted from the plant, and infused into three varieties of products.

"Capsules, oils and vaporization cartridges," Vireo Health CEO Ari Hoffnung said. "Folks may be familiar with e-cigarette technology. It's very similar."

Officials hope these pharmaceutical-grade products will make all the difference for those suffering from serious illnesses -- like HIV, epilepsy or Parkinson's Disease.

Broome County Executive Debbie Preston (R) was once an opponent of medical marijuana -- but her own battle with lung cancer caused a change of heart.

"When I was diagnosed with cancer, and my surgery, and treatments, I was given a lot of nausea medicine, and it helped a little but not really," Preston said. "To me, I wish it was here then, for myself, because it's not something that anybody wants to go through."

"We don't believe that medical marijuana is a magical pill that will heal all of medical illnesses," Hoffnung said. "But we do believe there is ample evidence that it will offer relief to some patients."

Security will also be tight at the dispensary -- with access only being granted to registered healthcare providers, patients and caregivers, plus 24 hour surveillance. For now, the facility will only be open on Wednesdays, from noon to 7 p.m.