Construction will soon begin on a medical marijuana dispensary in Westchester, one of eight slated to open in New York City and its suburbs, but not everyone is ready to welcome the newcomer with open arms.
Empire State Health Solutions, which has experience opening a greenhouse and dispensaries in Minnesota, will be operating the dispensary, currently a boarded-up store, near the corner of East Post Road and Broadway in White Plains. The company says it will look similar to a sister site in Minnesota, and will only distribute marijuana-based medicine in the form of pills, oils and liquid.
But neighbors said they fear the business will bring customers intent on getting marijuana without a valid medical excuse.
"I can't believe they're doing it. I can't believe it," said Pamela Ferrell, who works nearby. "Everybody's going to make an excuse up to get weed."
"I know it could help people so that part of it is good, but I don't know about the other parts, people who not taking it medically," said Rose Yung, who also wokrs nearby.
John Picciano, who owns Salon Flair a few doors down, is concerned about the possibility of crime.
"It could encourage thievery. Somebody gets the idea that they can go in there and steal that money. They might go in with guns," he said.
Empire State Health Solutions said there will be other payment options besides cash, and it's only distributing medical marijuana to people with state-approved ailments like multiple sclerosis, seizures or Parkinson's disease. Patients must also have a presciption from their doctor.
The business has its supporters, too. Maria Concha, who owns a tattoo and body piercing shop next door, said, "We're not going to move out of anything like that. We're pretty open-minded."
A message was left with the city of White Plains.
Empire State Health Solutions plans to open three other sites across the state by January 2016, including in Elmhurst, Queens.
New York state, which has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana programs, is allowing only 20 dispensaries to open: four will be in New York City, another four in the suburbs, including White Plains, and the other 12 across upstate. The 2014 law also requires the marijuana to be sold in non-smokable forms like oils and tinctures that can be ingested or vaporized.
The five vendors selected by the state earlier this month were chosen "through a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation process," according to state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.
The winners, in addition to Empire State Health Solutions, are Bloomfield Industries, whose founder is entrepreneur Richard Yost; Columbia Care NY LLC, which operates medical marijuana facilities in four states; and PharmaCann, one of the largest operators in Illinois' program.
Since California's first legal medical marijuana dispensaries opened in 1996, 22 other states have passed their own medical pot laws as the industry evolved in the face of skepticism by investors and some in the medical community and a patchwork of conflicting state and federal laws.
New York officials maintained that they're using lessons learned in other states to create a program that ensures people get medication they need for conditions such as cancer, epilepsy and AIDS while discouraging abuse of the drug.