Call it Fort Pot Rx: 14th St. dispensary is slammed as ‘like a jail’

Pot legalization advocates recently made their cage...or rather, case…in Washington Square.  Photo by Tequila Minsky

Pot legalization advocates recently made their cage…or rather, case…in Washington Square. They called for decriminalization of marijuana, especially low-level offenses. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY PAUL DeRIENZO | As Pennsylvania became the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana last week and with ballot measures to legalize the weed in several others, including California this November, New York’s medical marijuana law is finally getting off the ground.

In states where pot is legal, like Colorado, there have already been $1 billion in sales and tens of millions of dollars in taxes collected, including for school construction, while in New York medical marijuana is carefully regulated to prevent even the slightest hint of recreational use. Patients must be registered with the Health Department, obtain a prescription from a state-certified doctor and possess a registration card. No edible or smokable forms of pot are allowed, only an eyedropper of cannabis liquid selling for $100 to $300 that can be used in a device called a vaporizer.

Beth Marchand, director of marketing and sales at Columbia Care, the approved provider with four locations in the state, including one at 212 E. 14th St., near Third Ave. said, “We have been open and serving patients since January. As the number of qualified physicians and patients increases within the program, we are seeing more qualified patients reach out to us at our four locations in New York. Education and safe access to products and services is our number one priority and that is what we are most focused on.”

But Dennis Levy — the Green Party candidate in the recent special election for the 65th Assembly District, who is H.I.V. positive and a lifelong marijuana legalization advocate — called the New York program “frustrating and flawed.” He added that he believes “the selection ‘process’ was corrupt.”

Levy, who lives in the Al Smith Houses on the Lower East Side, expressed distaste with the 14th St. facility, which he called a “fortress.”

He quoted a friend who is a patient describing how he entered the facility. He said patients pass through “two security systems before you even run into another patient.” In addition, visitors “must flash a medical marijuana card in front of a camera. If everything is in order, the first set of doors opens to a vestibule and the door slams closed behind you.”

“It reminds me of jail” said Levy, who added that insurance does not cover the cost of medical pot, which is clearly a burden for low-income individuals.

“It’s totally screwed up!” Levy continued in his e-mail to The Villager. “Who wants to go through all of the B.S. to get smokeless ‘chemicals’? There’s no smokable or edible marijuana of any kind for sale! Everybody said it gives them the ‘creeps.’ ”

Levy went on to advocate for a new marijuana bill, the Marijuana Regulation Taxation Act, which has been proposed by East Side Assemblymember Liz Krueger and co-sponsored by eight other lawmakers. The bill would legalize marijuana for adults in New York and provide for its sale and taxation.

According to Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo, a sponsor of the bill, “Marijuana prohibition has cost the state $675 million each year while disproportionately targeting minorities.”

Although the bill currently has little traction, the legalization wave should pick up if California, as expected, legalizes pot this November.

In the meantime, marijuana patients will suffer the indignity of security vestibules and second-class status.

One E. 13th St. resident living near the new dispensary told The Villager that she and her neighbors are concerned about negative quality-of-life impacts from it. Asked if there actually had been any so far, she said no, but that they are nevertheless concerned and keeping their eye on it.

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