A new marijuana cultivation and production facility will be built in Glenville and a new dispensary opened in Saratoga County as the state works to expand a medical option it made available two years ago.
New York City-based Fiorello Pharmaceuticals announced its plans Tuesday, the same day the state Department of Health announced approval of five new registered organizations that will be part of the budding industry in New York. The move doubles the number of approved providers of medical marijuana from five to 10 and will double the number of approved dispensaries — the pharmacies where the substance is available to patients — from 20 to 40.
The only Capital Region impact will be created by Fiorello, which will build its production facility at the Glenville Business and Technology Park and open dispensaries at locations to be announced in Saratoga, Monroe, Nassau and New York counties. The next closest new dispensaries will be in Oneida and Clinton counties. There are also three existing dispensaries in and around Albany. One is run by Vireo Health of New York, which operates a cultivation facility in Fulton County.
Eric Sirota, co-CEO of Fiorello, said the company will start work immediately on the production facility, which will occupy about a third of the currently vacant 120,000-square-foot Building 201 and employ about 20 people to start. Fiorello has right of first refusal on the remainder of the building, and plans to expand its workforce and its footprint as its business grows. It did not specify an estimated cost of the project, except that it will be in the millions of dollars.
Fiorello was among dozens of applicants that sought but did not receive permission from the state to be among the first five providers of medical marijuana in 2015. Schenectady County and town of Glenville officials worked extensively with the company to keep its plans viable and keep them local, and they were excited about Tuesday’s announcement.
No public subsidy was extended to Fiorello to entice it to locate in Glenville.
The facility will be the first built by the company, which was formed in 2014. As per state law, the company will be integrated vertically, handling all aspects of the product itself: growing the marijuana plants, extracting the active ingredients, refining them into dosage units and dispensing or delivering the doses to patients.
Sirota said Tuesday’s announcement is good news for the medical community as well as the patient population.
“At the end of the day, increased patient options … all of that is positive,” he said.
Sirota is a pharmacist by training and was a longtime executive at Pfizer. Other members of Fiorello’s executive team have similar backgrounds, which Sirota said gives the company a unique perspective on how to approach the new business.
The strategy is threefold:
- Offer innovative products at affordable prices.
- Expand the number of medical practitioners who are writing prescriptions.
- Maintain a focus on patients, to make them feel comfortable with the product and make their experience the best it can be.
“That’s where we feel at Fiorello we have a significant advantage,” he said: Knowing how to talk to physicians or patients and knowing how to educate them on the product, having done this before for traditional pharmaceutical products.
New York’s medical marijuana program got off to a slow start, criticized for being cumbersome and not user-friendly. The New York Times reported earlier this year that the state’s purported panel of industry experts in charge of licensing providers was actually a group of state employees with little experience in the field; that the high cost and limited availability of medical marijuana was limiting its use in New York; and that dispensaries have been unable to make a profit.
The state has since been seeking to make medical marijuana easier to obtain and more commonly used; Tuesday’s announcement is part of that effort.
Legalizing home delivery, authorizing wholesaling, and adding physician assistants and nurse practitioners to the list of those authorized to prescribe marijuana all helped further the state effort, Sirota said. But the big change came in late March, when the state added chronic pain to the list of conditions for which marijuana could be prescribed. The number of certified patients has nearly doubled since March, to 25,736 as of Tuesday.
Still, in a state of 19.75 million people, that is a very small number. And there are only 1,139 health care professionals in the whole state registered to prescribe marijuana, as of Tuesday.
Vireo and some of the other originally licensed marijuana providers have criticized the state’s plan to double the number of companies in the field, saying the industry is too new, small and fragile in New York for such a move to work.
Sirota said drug rollouts are notoriously challenging even when they involve FDA-approved medications with specified doses — and marijuana is neither.
But the industry experience he and Fiorello’s other executives have will make the process work for the company, he predicted, and give Fiorello an advantage over other companies trying to accomplish the same thing in New York.
Sirota said the medical challenges of his own son make him passionate about providing the greatest possible range of treatment options to the medical community, and this informs his efforts to bring medical marijuana to the mass market.
“We’re true believers,” he said.
Fiorello’s plan, Sirota said, is to grow the industry and grow the company with it, expanding further into Building 201 as the need arises.
The sprawling industrial park campus is home to a wide range of companies, some of which own the buildings in which they operate. The campus previously comprised two industrial parks and a derelict former U.S. Navy depot, but is now being marketed under a single name: Glenville Business and Technology Park.
Parts of the campus, including Building 201, are owned by the Galesi Group of Rotterdam, which also operates former military depots in Rotterdam and Guilderland as industrial parks.
There will be some local fiscal benefit to the county, beyond the jobs created: The state levies a special 7 percent excise tax on the revenues of medical marijuana companies, about of a quarter of which goes to the county where a company has its facilities.
In a news release Tuesday, Anthony Jasenski, chairman of the Schenectady County Legislature, said: “The Schenectady County Legislature was proud to support Fiorello’s license application and we thank Governor Cuomo and the Department of Health for approving this project that brings another new business to Schenectady County. This is a great new use for a former Navy Depot building and we are excited about bringing a cutting-edge pharmaceutical company to our community that will help patients throughout the State while creating jobs for our residents.”
Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle said: “Glenville is pleased that the thorough and professional team at Fiorello Pharmaceuticals has been awarded a license and will begin operations at the Glenville Business and Technology Park. This will create jobs and new professional development opportunities for town residents, while continuing the great progress we have seen in bringing new companies to the business park. Glenville continues to build tax base and jobs and we congratulate the Fiorello team for getting this well-deserved approval from New York state.”