By Andy Katz
Queens Daily Eagle
For some Forest Hills residents, July 10 will be the high point of the summer.
That’s the day Curaleaf Dispensary will officially open on 70th Road in Forest Hills, becoming Queens’ second medical marijuana dispensary. There are currently five other dispensaries, including Vireos in Elmhurst.
Though Curaleaf has yet to officially open for business, staff were on-site Tuesday to sign up potential clients during an Open House event. Other Curaleaf employees stood outside to talk with curious passersby and a small crowd gathered under the shop’s green awning.
“People are very positive,” said one Curaleaf staff member who declined to give her name, citing company policy. “We were especially surprised at how many seniors had good things to say about the opening of a dispensary in their neighborhood.”
Patients who suffer from an evolving list of conditions maintained by the New York State Department of Health can obtain a prescription for medical marijuana from a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant who is certified to prescribe marijuana.
The patient then registers online with the Health Department, which issues an identification card for the patient to use when purchasing medical marijuana products. The system also allows patients to specify a designated caregiver who can pick up prescription pot on the patient’s behalf.
Francis, a long-term Forest Hills resident, said he uses marijuana to manage the side effects of the chemotherapy he receives to treat non-Hodgkins lymphoma. “For me, it’s not about pain—in fact I feel worse when I smoke and I’m in pain—but it helps me hold down my meds, and I even manage some appetite!”
Francis declined to give his full name when discussing his health and marijuana use, but said he prefers to smoke blunts, cheap cigars filled with cannabis and tobacco. Smokable marijuana is not permitted for sale at dispensaries under the 2014 medical marijuana law so Francis said he will try vaping and oils.
“Right now, our oils are the only product where we distinguish between indica and sativa strains,” said Mike Conway, Curaleaf’s dispensary director. “But we hope in the near-future to have more variety in our oral, sublingual items.”
Conway said New York has been slow to embrace medical marijuana.
“Especially Upstate, they’re not being adequately served,” Conway said. “The nearest dispensary is two hours away in many of those counties. We’re looking forward to growing in the future.”
Overall, 20 states have legalized or decriminalized recreational marijuana. Last month, New York City announced a new New York Police Department to limit the number of arrests related marijuana use in response to vast racial disparities in arrest data. The new policy instructs NYPD officers to issue summonses rather than make arrests for smoking marijuana except for suspects with outstanding warrants or who are on probation or parole.
In a May op-ed in the Amsterdam News, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz advocated for an end to low-level marijuana arrests.
“In the interest of justice and public trust, the city should no longer make arrests for low-level marijuana offenses,” Katz wrote.