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Go Inside NYC's First Medical Marijuana Dispensary

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Walking into Columbia Care's pot dispensary in Union Square you're not met with a bong, rolling paper, or a certain smell you might expect when you hear the words marijuana and store together. Instead, New York's first medical marijuana dispensary looks like a high-end spa—a pristine waiting area with a long green bench, informational posters on one wall, and a brick wall painted over in white are what greet you upon arrival. The dispensary itself is further inside, completely shielded from the public eye. As one of the country's largest manufacturers and providers of medical marijuana, patient care and comfort is top priority for Columbia Care, and only patients approved by the state and recommended by a physician can enter the facility.

To enter, you must present a photo ID outside the dispensary. A camera located at the entrance provides staff members in the dispensary with visual confirmation, and patients can then pass through. The dispensary itself is past the lobby and the waiting area, and through a white door in the back.

Here too, there's more of the same minimalist design - white counters and tables, wooden panelling in some sections and wooden stools, informational posters on the walls with tons of images of greenery, and potted plants in geometric vases, all of which has been designed by retail design firm, RPG.

"The focus of every aspect of the design has been the patient's happiness and patient satisfaction," said Nicholas Vita, CEO of Columbia Care, who was on hand at the dispensary Wednesday prior to its official launch on Thursday morning. "When you think about the materials we use—the natural wood, the photographs of nature—we are really trying to establish that connection between this as an organic product that is grown in an artisanal fashion, and is extracted and turned into something that the patient can ingest and use as a substitute to very harsh pharmaceutical products."

In this section of the dispensary, patients can consult with pharmacists on what type of treatment they prefer, talk about their ailments, and make their purchase. A room further inside the center offers privacy for patients who are uncomfortable talking about their condition in public.

How it works: New York state prohibits the sale of medical marijuana in smokeable or edible forms, hence the only products available are in the form of tinctures, concentrates for vaporization, and orally ingestible capsules. The office in Union Square is the first of four medical marijuana dispensaries Columbia Care plans to open in the state of New York, with the others planned for Rochester, Plattsburgh, and Riverhead. Rochester is also where the marijuana is grown, as plants can't be grown on-site, but must still be produced within the state.

The medical marijuana law in New York, known as the Compassionate Care Act, was passed in 2014, and gave out licenses to five companies that were selected through a competitive process, according to CNBC. Those five companies are each allowed to operate one manufacturing facility and four dispensaries in the state. Columbia Care is the first. And no, it has nothing to do with Columbia University—the name came about for two reasons. The company's first facility opened in Washington, D.C.; and, as Vita explains it, "this is thematic of what is old is new again," referring to the United States historically being referred to as Columbia. "We are using a product that has been around for thousands of years for medical purposes and bringing it out of the shadow and into the light."

Columbia Care's dispensary is located at 212 East 14th Street. Patients can schedule appointments by visiting Columbia Care's website or by calling 1-800-764-8162

· A look inside Manhattan's first medical marijuana dispensary [CNBC]