Five months after its opening, the first Bronx medical marijuana dispensary is struggling to attract customers, officials with the program said.
Even after the state added chronic pain to the list of approved medical conditions for patients eligible for marijuana Hunts Point dispensary PharmaCannis is still striving to get the word out.
“The New York medical cannabis program — it’s struggling, but it’s surviving,” said Jeremy Unruh, a spokesman for the dispensary. “Competition is pretty fierce because there is such a small number of patients.”
Navigating the state’s medical marijuana program can be difficult for patients because the names of registered doctors are often not posted publicly, and there are lingering predisposed notions on the drug, Unruh explained.
A few hundred patients currently use the Bronx facility, he said.
“So now our efforts have really been focused on outreach,” Unruh said. “Dispelling these age-old notions of making a medical cannabis recommendation is really the barrier to making this program a success.”
The dispensary will also start delivering to places like retirement communities and nursing homes, with home delivery on the horizon, said Anna Poulin, the outreach manager with PharmaCannis.
“For us it’s about taking care of the patient first and making sure that they get what they need and they get what they can afford,” she said.
Pelham Bay resident Frank Libal, 67, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008 and has been a customer at the Bronx location since it opened in November.
“I was waiting for the dispensary to open. There’s really not enough” of them, said Libal, adding that the marijuana has helped him more than conventional medicine. “In my heart I believe it works better.”
A spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health said the program has “made great strides” since it launched. She said the department is prohibited from publicly posting the identity of practitioners registered with the program without their consent.
“Recent enhancements such as adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition, allowing registered organizations to wholesale their products to other registered organizations, permitting home delivery, and empowering nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify patients, will improve access for patients, streamline production, increase choice and help lead to reduced costs,” the spokeswoman said in an email.
As of Wednesday, across the state 965 practitioners had registered for the program, and 16,992 patients had been certified, according to the Health Department’s website.
Currently in New York, eligible patients are those suffering from chronic pain, cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, and Huntington’s disease; or those with an associated or complicating conditions, including severe nausea, seizures, or severe or persistent muscle spasms, according to agency.
Also last month, the Health Department approved physician assistants to register with the program, as long as their supervising physician is also registered to certify patients.