HALFMOON — The Capital Region’s newest medical marijuana dispensary officially opens Friday on Route 9 in Halfmoon, selling a limited range of products as the young company gets up and running.
FP Wellness is one of two dispensaries operated by New York City-based Fiorello Pharmaceuticals. The other is in Rochester. A third will open in Manhattan later this month, and the fourth will open on Long Island soon after.
All will be stocked with products from Fiorello’s production facility in Glenville, where the company grows marijuana to be processed for medicinal purposes.
Eric Sirota, co-CEO of Fiorello, said the company has gained approval for its product formulation and packaging, but it must submit the products to the state Department of Health for testing and receive approval to start selling it. Until then, Fiorello’s dispensaries are selling a limited range of products from other companies.
The Halfmoon dispensary had a soft opening last week. It’s an attractive but low-key place, with no obvious indication that medicinal marijuana is sold there.
Walk-in patients will be seen, but pharmacist Katie Ogden said appointments are preferred because the process takes a few minutes, especially for first-timers. New customers must present certification from a medical professional that allows them to buy medicinal marijuana. Then, there’s a consultation and evaluation through which Ogden determines which product, what dosage, and what ratio of tetrahydrocannabinol to cannabidiol will benefit the patient. She also asks whether the patient has been using legal or illegal marijuana for recreational or medical reasons, to determine if there may be any built-up tolerance.
Ogden said she starts conservatively, particularly with patients who are “cannabis-naive” — those who’ve never used marijuana and don’t know how it will affect them. She can move the patient to a higher dosage if the smaller dose is tolerated well but is not effective.
The medical provider generally leaves the specifics of dosage to the pharmacist’s discretion.
“If they’re cannabis-naive, we would start low and go slow, that’s always the policy,” Ogden said. “Somebody who’s an experienced cannabis user would probably be able to use something with a higher THC level.”
When all this is done, the customer can review products and prices and make a purchase.
Co-CEO Susan Yoss said offering a pharmaceutical option to patients is what brought her into the medical marijuana industry. She had watched her own mother suffer through a losing battle against ovarian cancer.
“She took medications that we saw the side effects during her entire process of three and a half years of suffering, so our focus is creating an alternative,” she said.
Asked if Fiorello would like to move into the adult recreational market if it is legalized in New York state, as appears increasingly likely, Sirotta said the company is focused entirely on medical marijuana for now.
“We’re aware of what’s going on in Albany,” he said. “We’ve seen Gov. Cuomo’s proposal. We’re monitoring the legislative process, but right now, our focus is only on the medical marijuana business.
“Our goal is really to do significant outreach to both physicians and patients to educate them and build awareness as relates to medical marijuana and the potential benefits in a wide a variety of conditions.”
Fiorello’s grow/processing plant occupies part of an 80,000-square-foot building at the Glenville Business and Industrial Park. It can expand into the rest of the space if it needs to increase production, Sirota said.
New York’s medical marijuana industry has grown rapidly over the past three years, but it started from zero and is still quite small. Only about 0.5 percent of the state’s population is certified to buy medical marijuana, and numerous upstate counties lack even a single dispensary that sells it. Vireo Health New York, another medical marijuana company with production and sales facilities in the Capital Region, recently said it and its competitors have yet to turn a profit.
Sirota said Fiorello seeks to help change that landscape.
“Our goal is really to mainstream medical marijuana and establish it as a viable therapeutic option.”