CHESTERTOWN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — New York’s new medical marijuana program is going through some growing pains.
More than 8,000 patients have prescriptions statewide, but proposed rule changes could dramatically increase that number.
CBS2’s Brian Conybeare took an exclusive look inside one of only five legal pot production facilities in the state.
Off a two-lane road in Warren County, tucked behind trees, lies one of New York’s first medical marijuana grow houses.
Hillary Peckham, the 25-year-old CEO of Etain, LLC, says she suffered debilitating pain from a failed hip surgery several years ago but had to leave New York to legally obtain medical marijuana.
“Yes I have tried it and it did benefit my pain,” she said. “In New York, I’m not a patient so I cannot access this. So I also understand the frustration that patients have when they don’t qualify.”
Peckham gave CBS2 an exclusive tour of the company’s facility where everything is tracked from seed to sale, and patients are not allowed to light up.
“We’re not allowed to even make like edibles or brownies or anything like that, it’s very regulated and it’s a medical product,” she said.
Etain has been growing fields of green since January. Security is tight with an eight foot fence and video surveillance.
“Multiple cameras in each room, we have a security guard here 24 hours a day watching the cameras,” Etain’s Chief Compliance Officer Joseph Stevens told Conybeare.
There have been no break-ins and employees go through a state background check.
“We do initial employee drug testing and then random drug testing throughout the year,” Stevens said.
New York has the most restrictive medical marijuana program in the nation, with only 10 diseases, including cancer, aids and epilepsy qualifying.
“I definitely support expansion of the program because every day we see people with benefits,” Peckham said. “We have a couple of 11-year-olds actually. They went from hundreds of seizures a day to maybe one a month.”
Huge fans and an advanced air filtration system keep the marijuana smell from spreading outside the facility, and neighbors don’t seem to mind their new growth industry.
“It provides jobs for the locals and that’s a good thing,” Chestertown resident John Meade said.
“I have no problem with it,” resident Ed Munsch said.
Peckham showed CBS2 the secure storage area where 700 gram bags of weed wait to be processed.
“Each one of these has a bar code associated with it that we use to track,” she explained.
The facility is very clean, with staff members wearing hairnets and washing their shoes with a special solution.
“So now we go into extraction where the plant is processed into an oil,” Peckham said leading the way.
Three strengths of marijuana oil are purified, tested, then turned into drops to be put in clear capsules and e-cigarette-like vaporizers sold at Etain’s four dispensaries statewide.
“It’s not a miracle but it can definitely benefit a lot of people,” Peckham said.
But right now, only 700 of the more than 70,000 doctors in New York are willing to prescribe pot.
The CEO told CBS2 their average patient spends $300-$500 dollars a month, but health insurers do not cover medical marijuana so it’s all paid for in cash.
The state health department just approved a new home delivery service for patients who are too ill to travel to one of the 17 dispensaries statewide, and nurse practitioners may soon be able to prescribe pot too.