Medical marijuana has officially reached the nation’s largest city.

Sky scrapers in New YorkNew York State health officials were set to take the state’s MMJ program public Jan. 7 after 18 months of preparation. That means New York City will see its first legal marijuana sales since the drug was banned statewide more than a century ago.

“New York State’s Medical Marijuana Program is scheduled to launch on January 7, 2016, just 18 months after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act,” Health Department spokesman James Plastiras said in a press statement. “More information and details on the program will be released shortly.”

Five licensed growers to provide marijuana

The state has licensed five companies to grow cannabis, with each operating multiple medical dispensaries in various locations. At least one shop announced it would open in Union Square as soon as the program takes effect. There will be several other dispensaries in other parts of the city, including Murray Hill, Queens, and the Bronx. They are slated to open later in January.

It’s still an open question how effective the program will be at first. Other states have had a range of experiences; Massachusetts and Minnesota, for example, have experienced rocky starts to their systems, while many other states have been more successful.

Patients may be unable to get medicine

Legal Marijuana Jar DispensaryIf too few doctors are available to write marijuana recommendations in New York, few patients would be able to get the drug. As a result, prices would likely spike, driving many users back to the black market. The state’s program is especially stringent and could make it hard for doctors to recommend cannabis.

Under the law, patients who want medicinal marijuana must get a certification from a state-approved doctor, register with the Health Department, and obtain a patient ID card. That bureaucracy could also stymie patients who need their medicine.

Patients must vaporize or ingest medicine

And New York requires that patients vaporize or ingest cannabis, not smoke it. This lack of choice, too, could incentivize patients to buy their pot on the illegal market, and that could weaken the program.

MMJ was expected by January, but officials were initially quiet about a specific date. They also didn’t say how many physicians had been certified to recommend medical marijuana. This refusal to release information has worried many cannabis advocates, who fear patients may find the system too frustrating to be worth their time or money.

“We are looking forward to seeing the additional information and details about the program,” said Julie Netherland, a spokeswoman for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Patients in New York have been waiting a long time for the day when they can legally purchase medical marijuana. We hope the program rolls out goes smoothly and that patients will finally have some relief from their suffering.”

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