Tucked in the rolling hills of Orange County, New York, inside a row of anonymous buildings and behind doors bristling with security, is an operation few have ever seen.
Welcome to Pharmacann, one of five companies licensed by the State of New York to manufacture and distribute medical marijuana. In giant greenhouses covering the equivalent of three football fields are fields of green in every sense.
“The term factory is a little bit of an understatement, because these are state of the art manufacturing facilities,” said Jeremy Unruh.
Unruh is a former prosecutor and the general counsel for Pharmacann. He says what you see in these facilities is an industry that’s taking root.
“Nobody has done medical cannabis on this scale. We don’t produce anything that you can smoke or that you can eat. Everything is extracted into an oil,” Unruh said.
Pharmacann put its stake in the ground last year with this facility and dispensaries in the Bronx and Albany, and two other dispensaries near Buffalo and Syracuse.
It all happened fast after Gov. Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act in 2014. It allows just a handful of companies like Pharmacann to provide cannabis in an oil or capsule form to people with certain chronic medical conditions under the close supervision of a doctor.
“It’s not a miracle drug and it’s not a cure, but it’s a tool that physicians can use as an alternative,” Unruh said.
To take medical marijuana from seed to sale is a serious business. Every plant is assigned a barcode and every barcode is logged and checked repeatedly.
Security is job number one here. There are hundreds of cameras, hundreds of access car swiper devices, hundreds of seismic detectors, and hundreds of motion detectors.
From security to irrigation and climate control, no expense is spared in these high tech greenhouses, where the plants grow tall only to be sent to another world. The other part of this grow operation is hardcore science. Turning medical marijuana plants into medication requires a lot of brains.
“These people have backgrounds not just in cannabis, but in pharmaceutics, in engineering, in production, in manufacturing,” said Louis Emjia, Pharmacann’s operations manager.
It’s here in the lab that Pharmacann can stand out from its competitors. There’s magic in extracting the oil and making the final product.
“It’s a little bit like making a cake. It’s not ‘How great is your flour.’ It’s ‘How good is your recipe? How good are your ingredients? What is the sum of your ingredients?’” Unruh said.
To people working here, this operation is about money, but it’s also about the rewards of helping people.
For Unruh it’s even deeper than that.
“As a federal prosecutor, I saw a lot of people that were unfairly targeted because they may have had a very small amount of a plant like this. And to me there is a social justice issue here. There are a lot of reasons why people come to this industry. I came to it because I couldn’t imagine a better place to spend my time than working in a brand new industry like this that truly helps people,” Unruh said.
The medical marijuana program is just taking off but already the State Dept. of Health has issued a report suggesting the program be expanded. They may be just the early days of medical marijuana in New York.