An Inside Look at New York’s Medical Marijuana Program


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Written by Lauren Maul
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I recently became a member at one of the most exclusive secret societies in New York City. Getting in was tricky—I had to know a guy, jump through a lot of legal hoops, pay my dues, and…have a debilitating medical condition. Welcome to the New York State Medical Marijuana Program—one of the strictest weed programs in the nation.

I began the long and arduous quest for legal weed on the New York government website, which looks like it was designed back in ’98 and is probably best viewed on Netscape Navigator. After reading a lot of small print, I finally got the lay of the land.

First, I had to find a brave doctor who had gone through all the proper steps to prescribe MJ. There are only a handful in the NYC area, because medical weed is only legalized at the state level and many docs are afraid of getting into troubs with the federal government. (Get it together, government!) Then I had to provide copies of all my relevant medical testing results that officially documented my condition (only a few conditions qualify you). Next, I had to get a written prescription from said doctor, which in turn would allow me to get an ID card from the NY State Health Department. This secret pot society does not mess around….

I was lucky to find a doctor who did house calls and was cheaper than other docs. (An initial evaluation can cost you anywhere from $150-$250—ouch!) The doctor had good vibes and I knew I could trust him when my cats climbed into his medical satchel. I showed him copies of my MRIs, my nerve tests, and other medical records to prove I belonged in the secret weed club.

He explained the whole program/secret society to me, how there were no flowers, just oils made in a lab with specific levels of THC and CBD. (Don’t be fooled by our clever Statue of Liberty and bongs pic above.) There were three options of ingesting: pills, sublingual (under the tongue) tincture, and vaporizing oil pens. Everything seemed so future-y. He wrote me a prescription with specific instructions of how often and how much to use, what ratio of CBD to THC I needed, and then sent it all to the health department so I could get my card in the mail in three to five business days—THE LONGEST THREE TO FIVE DAYS OF MY LIFE.

My super special secret club card came the day before my birthday and it was the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten. There was my goofy driver’s license photo staring back at me under the word “MARIJUANA.” I squealed with delight and ran to my computer to make an appointment at a dispensary, posthaste. I was in the secret club! And now I had the magical card that would open the doors to the mysterious world of New York weed dispensaries.

The first dispensary I visited was Vireo Health in Queens. Unlike the Colorado and California dispensaries I’ve seen, there were no neon lights, there were no bongs lining the shelves, no Grateful Dead paraphernalia, just a quiet and clinical setting. The only thing NY dispensaries have in common with other pot stores is the fact that there’s always one elderly white man loitering inside, ranting about the government.

After a helpful demonstration from a kindly Vireo pharmacist, I was on my way with pills and a sleek new vape oil pen. The staff at Vireo is the friendliest I’ve found and I’ve never been mansplained to at that location—maybe because the staff seems to be all delightful ladies and gay men. Plus, their dispensary is located right next to a White Castle, so there really is no downside.

A few weeks later, I gave Columbia Care on 14th Street in Manhattan a try. I enjoyed the security guard out front—he seemed like a retired boxing coach with a heart of gold. Inside, the waiting room’s California casual theme and tasteful photos of weed plants put me at ease. Columbia Care’s setting is less clinical than Vireo’s and they even take debit card (most other dispensaries are cash only). The staff was friendly with the exception of one cranky dude pharmacist, who’s probably just cranky because the pharmacists aren’t allowed to sample the products—bummer for that dude. Columbia Care is located super close to an IHOP and a Momofuku Milk Bar, which is probably why I’ve gained five pounds since I got my pot card.

I recently gave Etain Health in Yonkers a try and found it to be a true delight. They offer the most variety of products—tinctures, pills, and vapes, and they even have a mouth spray! Their office has a homey vibe and the decor reminded me of a comforting ’90s sitcom set. The pharmacist I spoke with was passionate and super informed. I only wish they weren’t located so far away. Road trip to Yonkers, anyone?

Since I’ve joined this secret state-sanctioned weed society my energy is up, my pain is down, and I feel like a happy lady in a 1970s douching ad—sans the douches. But if you are an elderly person—or just someone not used to navigating ’90s government websites—this process is nearly impossible. It’s also incredibly expensive, since health insurance and pot are not currently friends. One vaporizer cartridge can cost anywhere from $90 to $200. Yikes! (Say goodbye to sharing your stash, not just because it’s illegal, but also because that shit is EXPENSIVE.)

Despite these hurdles, the NY state program manages to do something right: The products it provides are truly magical and have changed a lot of New Yorkers’ lives for the better. When I emailed my doctor to tell him how much my quality of life has improved, he replied, “I love getting these emails!” And I love my legal weed.


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