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The NYC Homeless App, Formed From Complaints Posted to Facebook

Some New Yorkers drop some change when they pass a homeless person on the street. David Fox makes an app.

The 25-year-old engineer from Murray Hill developed an app called NYC Map the Homeless, which aims to collect data that Fox will eventually send to city officials to help them address the issue of homelessness.

The app encourages its users to snap photos of homeless people they see on the street and upload them to a map, which identifies regions with high concentrations of homelessness. Users can also add hashtags to their photos to describe what they saw, such as “#Violent,” “#PassedOut,” “#NeedsMedicalAid,” or “#AggressivePanhandling.” So far, the app has been downloaded about 1,200 times.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, New York City is home to more than 58,760 homeless people. These rates are the highest the city has seen since the Great Depression. A majority of those living on the street suffer from mental illness, addiction, or severe health problems, which, according to the group’s research, more often affect single homeless adults than whole families. It is also common that many seemingly homeless individuals actually have homes, while many people truly without a home aren’t on the street, but in shelters. While the homeless are stereotyped to cause public disturbance, many of them are not harmful.

Fox is one of a growing number of Murray Hill and Kips Bay residents who’ve become frustrated by the homelessness in their neighborhood. He belongs to the Facebook group “Third and 33rd (and Beyond),” where members actively post photos of homelessness from around the neighborhood — that’s how Fox got the idea for his app. The group, which has nearly 600 members, says it raises awareness, encourages participation in community board meetings, and informs residents what they should report and to whom.

One photo, taken by Kips Bay resident Yael Feder, features a homeless man’s feet hanging over the top of a planter:

A homeless man in a planter, as seen on the Facebook group
A homeless man in a planter, as seen on the Facebook group

“A number of residents of the Kips Bay-Murray Hill neighborhood have noticed over the past year, year and a half that the homeless problem in our neighborhood was growing by leaps and bounds, and behaviors becoming more intolerable,” says Janet Martin, a member of the Facebook group. “Nobody should have to look outside his window and see someone masturbating on his doorstep.”

Neighborhood residents are very often confronted with aggressive panhandling, people passed out on the street, and urinating or defecating in parks meant for adults in the company of children, Martin says.

She says that part of the neighborhood’s problem is the Mainchance Drop-In Center, located at 32nd Street between Lexington and Park. Mainchance asks only for identification from those who wish to use its services. “We’ve asked them to do more than ask for ID from people,” says Martin. “We’ve asked them to screen for drug and alcohol abuse, screen for sex offenders, screen for anyone who has an outstanding arrest warrant and refer them to the police.” But she says Mainchance, which is part of the Department of Homeless Services, has not been very responsive.

“You can’t just give people a meal and turn them loose on the streets until the next meal if those people are dangerous to the community or if they’re going to go out and urinate, defecate, masturbate, and have sex in public. That isn’t right.” She adds that meals aren’t enough: “If they are attracting with meals people who need drug, alcohol, and mental illness treatment, they should have offerings to address this, and not in a neighborhood dense with children and schools.”

For more than a decade, Mainchance has functioned as a soup kitchen, serving New Yorkers in need — not only the homeless, but also the working poor, and LGBT runaways. It is strategically situated near two major transportation hubs: Grand Central and Penn Station.

“Mainchance, like many other facilities in our communities, provides much-needed services to New Yorkers in need, not just the homeless. [Mayor Bill de Blasio’s] administration is taking aggressive measures to reduce homelessness while ensuring the safety of our communities. We have staff working 24/7 to bring unsheltered New Yorkers inside to help them get housing, and while New Yorkers are in shelter, we work to provide critical social services to help them eventually transition into permanency,” a spokeswoman from the Department of Homeless Services tells the Voice.

Martin says the neighborhood is beginning to see progress, but not enough. “We are not trying to shame homeless people. Most homeless people conduct themselves with great dignity despite their circumstances. We are focused on the small minority of homeless with drug and alcohol problems and mental illness who create a risk for our communities, especially children and the elderly, through their public actions on our streets,” she says. “Those are the homeless we need to keep our neighborhoods safe from and who shouldn’t be in it.”

However, Lindsey Davis, director of crisis services at the Coalition for the Homeless, says that taking photos of homeless people to give to service providers might not be part of the best solution. “There are some privacy concerns I would have about that,” says Davis. If a homeless client feels like they are being followed or is having their photo taken without consent, they may become less trusting. “When they do meet someone who could provide them assistance, it makes it harder to engage them,” says Davis.

She also worries that information recorded by a private entity could be used by people who don’t have benevolent intentions. She mentioned one of the Coalition’s clients who had been set on fire on the train. “I would hate to see something like that be an unintended outcome of documentation,” says Davis.

For his part, Fox says that his app creates more accountability and gives the public a better sense of what’s going on than the city’s own 311 app.

“It’s also sort of a black hole on what actually happens to the submissions immediately after they are submitted,” says Fox about the 311 app. While the 311 app features a “Complaints” tab where users can create a “Homeless Assistance” alert, it also attempts to cover everything else under the 311 umbrella.

Fox says he wants to use the insights and live data feed from his app to provide data not only on where large homeless populations exist, but also on where specific incidents are occurring most. Singling out homeless people photographically is not meant to shame homelessness, Fox says, nor is passing them by without acknowledgment. “I’m not living under the impression that completely ignoring homeless people and giving them privacy is somehow helping them live good lives or bringing us any closer to actually helping them,” says Fox.

While he doesn’t think dropping change is a good solution — it encourages homeless people to return to the same areas when homeless services should be providing aid — Fox says he wants to use data to help find “smart solutions.”

Data on homelessness is lacking, Fox says. “The hope of my project is to bolster this data.”

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A Brooklyn Duo Want to Better Prescribe the Medical Weed Your Brain Needs

David and Baruch Goldstein want to help New York’s medical marijuana patients find exactly the right strain of cannabis to suit their needs.

In early 2014 the father-son duo from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, founded their tech startup, named PotBotics, to, as they put it, “elevate the cannabis industry to higher medical standards.” That means using what they say is a more scientific approach to picking a strain than, as is the case in other states, peering through the glass of a case at a dispensary and taking the advice of a “budtender” behind the counter.

In the past eighteen months, the Goldsteins have quickly opened offices in both Manhattan and Palo Alto, California, to bridge the tech talent in Silicon Valley with New York’s forthcoming medical marijuana boom and biotech industry.

And while many have criticized New York’s Compassionate Care Act for being too restrictive — it bans smoking and edibles — 23-year-old David Goldstein says the law shows a lot of promise. “These kinds of strict regulations make sure New York is indeed a medical state,” says Goldstein.

In the past, Goldstein says, he heard a lot of skepticism about marijuana’s medicinal benefits: “Like, ‘Oh yeah, medical, shmedical, these are just patients wanting to get high,’” he tells the Voice. But when medical marijuana vastly improved a sick family member’s quality of life, he felt galvanized to get involved in the industry. After much convincing, his father Baruch, a doctor of mathematics who works with Alzheimer’s patients, agreed to partner with David.

PotBotics products function within a pharmaceutical framework to provide a more transparent approach to medical marijuana, Goldstein says.

Its name sounds straight out of a Fifties science-fiction movie, but PotBiotics’ “BrainBot” device is designed to help patients determine their individual responses to different strains of cannabis, so that doctors can customize their medical marijuana recommendations. “A lot of drug companies use EEG to validate performance,” Goldstein says. “We wanted to take a similar approach, to help show validation on a cannabis level.”

With more than 1,000 strains of cannabis on the market, the options can be dizzying. A generic recommendation for “medical marijuana” doesn’t go far enough to help patients delineate what kind of cannabis to buy at a dispensary. “Rather than focusing on strain names,” — “blue dream,” “sour diesel,” “Girl Scout cookies” — “PotBotics focuses around cannabinoid levels,” Goldstein explains.

The most well-known cannabinoid, or active chemical compound in the cannabis plant, is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), but there are several others that have medicinal properties. CBD (cannabidiol), for instance, has been found to be useful in alleviating epileptic seizures. While THC is the main component behind feeling high, other chemical compounds may influence its activity. This is known as the “entourage effect.” Moreover individual patients may react differently to the same combination of cannabinoids in a particular strain. So for instance, while “Charlotte’s Web” — a strain of high CBD cannabis — can be useful to treat seizures, it might not work for every patient. And depending on cultivation, each batch of the same strain may have slightly varied cannabinoid levels.

BrainBot helps doctors recommend strains with higher values of the cannabinoids to which a patient reacts best. The EEG works while patients ingest cannabis extracts from an inhaler to determine their reactions. Inhaling extracts, says Goldstein, as opposed to smoking combusted cannabis flower with organic material and nuance, serves as a controlled medium to show the most promising relief: “Patients and doctors will have a means of following up on care in a quantified format.”

He compares the BrainBot method of cannabis recommendation to prescribing a Schedule II drug like Adderall. Patients and doctors periodically evaluate whether the drug and dosage are working. “I would see the future of New York’s [medical marijuana] law reflecting stronger patient follow-up,” says Goldstein. “Having devices to validate that treatment is very important.”

The Goldsteins plan to launch BrainBot by the end of November but will likely introduce it in states like California before New York. Only five strains of medical marijuana are currently allowed under New York’s Compassionate Care Act.

Dr. Jack D’Angelo of Citiva Medical, one of the companies that applied for a medical marijuana growing license in New York, says recommending cannabis is still not as simple as using an EEG device. Doctors, especially in New York where the state provides only a single four- to six-hour training course, need to educate themselves more thoroughly on how different kinds of marijuana interact with treatable conditions.

“I think we’re going to see a huge learning curve,” D’Angelo predicts.

David (left) and Baruch Goldstein with PotBot
David (left) and Baruch Goldstein with PotBot

The field of medical marijuana still needs guidance and a systemic approach like PotBotics offers, adds surgeon Dr. George Anastossov. To help doctors and patients begin to understand the basics of these these cannabis-condition relationships, the Goldsteins also came out with PotBot, which they will launch at the end of September.

While not as personalized as BrainBot, PotBot is an app that educates patients on medical cannabis. The app describes which strains and cannabinoid levels correspond best with which ailments. (It doesn’t evaluate the specific cannabinoid levels a patient reacts best to, like BrainBot does.) It then tells patients where they can buy these particular strains. While PotBot may be similar to the crowd-sourced website Leafly, it doesn’t provide information about the recreational effects of cannabis. “Inspirational” or good for “wake and bake” won’t be part of the strain descriptions, Goldstein says. PotBot’s information comes from scholarly sources and scientific journals that he thinks doctors would appreciate.

What works in a recreational market doesn’t always work for a medical market, Goldstein argues. He believes patients shouldn’t have to experiment with their reactions to cannabis medicine after visiting the dispensary but should have a better idea, going into it, what kind of medical relief to expect.

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Here’s Why Marijuana Will Be an All-Cash Business in New York

When it arrives in New York, the medical marijuana industry will be a nearly all-cash business.

New York’s five companies licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana under the Compassionate Care Act must grapple with the security, safety, and legal challenges of dealing in cash because they can’t keep it in banks in the same way other businesses do.

Federally regulated banks are often unwilling to work with clients whose money comes from the business of medical marijuana, the legality of which varies state to state. This is in spite of a 2014 statement by the Justice and Treasury Departments that would allow banks to serve state-licensed marijuana businesses. Licensees, dispensary employees, patients, and other affiliated vendors are therefore barred from using credit or debit cards, or holding bank accounts that contain money made from cannabis. In other states with medical marijuana, the payroll and all business transactions often go down in cash. Thousands and thousands of pounds of cash, sometimes in duffel bags.

“Very simply, it’s a nightmare,” says Mark Goldfogel, executive vice president of the Fourth Corner Credit Union, a state-charted credit union based in Denver that was created for the state’s booming cannabis industry. In late July, the National Credit Union Administration’s Office of Consumer Protection denied Fourth Corner federal insurance, and now Fourth Corner is suing.

“There needs to be a change federally to give most financial institutions a level of comfort,” Fourth Corner CEO Dierdra O’Gordon tells the Voice. For example, Goldfogel says people may be forced to lie about the business they’re in or create fake business names and shell companies, so that they can pay some bill that can only be paid electronically.

Moreover, dealing all in cash poses a huge safety concern, says William Bates, founder of Canna Investment Protection Services, or CIPS LLC. From his experience in Washington state, Bates says it’s not uncommon for licensees to have up to $50,000 on them at any given time. People hide the cash in all sorts of places, such as beneath the floorboards or in unassuming cardboard boxes, and then must eventually transport it from the dispensary to an alternate location. Sometimes dispensary owners are forced to take a different route home from work every day. “I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge for folks in New York,” says Bates, “there’s a lot of people in New York, it’s more difficult to hide it there.”

In a state like New York, with only 20 dispensaries total, each dispensary may accumulate a lot of cash in a short amount of time. “If you don’t have something in place to manage that from a retail standpoint to banking and compliance, then you’re destined to fail,” says Howard Goldberg, sales director of Jane, a tech company that helps marijuana retailers stay financially transparent and compliant.

“At the end of the day, the books don’t always add up,” says Goldberg, “You’re held accountable on a compliance level. If you want to retain your license, you must be able to prove that all your revenue matches all your transactions.” Cash makes it more difficult to provide a solid audit trail.

Technological innovations, however, have helped alleviate some of the challenges that cash presents. The accounting based software Gateway LTP helps licensees transport their product from manufacture facilities to dispensaries. The software works like UPS or FedEx, says Bates, helping to track cannabis inventory levels and ensuring that the seed to sale system is up to date.

Jane co-founder Jeff Foster speaks with the media at the Cannabis Expo & Business Conference in June at the Javits Center in Manhattan.
Jane co-founder Jeff Foster speaks with the media at the Cannabis Expo & Business Conference in June at the Javits Center in Manhattan.

Once a dispensary is stocked with cannabis, an invention like Jane helps remove all cash handling from inside the dispensary and monitors transactions. After consulting with a budtender, the patient completes the financial transaction through Jane, a self-service kiosk. The patient then brings a pay voucher back to the budtender to receive the cannabis medicine.

When switching the cash out of Jane, a cash transport company delivers the money either to one of the few banks willing to accept business — though none in New York publicly do this so far — or to a vault. “No one in the dispensary has to touch [the cash],” says Goldberg, “There’s always this constant cash custody, no chance of any leakage.”

One step further than a kiosk would be a “marijuana debit card,” says Bates. “A cannabis debit card that people can use to pay for products, services, whatever, that is used within the industry. That will alleviate all the issues that come with dealing with all cash.” The company PayQwick is currently working toward this idea. [Editor’s note: A correction ran concerning this paragraph; please see end of article.]

“My goal is really to legitimize the cannabis business nationwide and make it so that we have the same privileges as every other retail business, that we’re able to write off all our expenses, use banking freely, and use credit cards,” says Goldberg. “The only way we’re going to move in that direction is through strict compliance and operating like a responsible retailer. It’s almost like we have to earn it.”

Correction published 9/18/15: The original version of this article identified PayQuicker LLC, rather than PayQwick, as the company working toward a no-cash payment option. The above version reflects the corrected text.

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Why Is Nobody Investing in New York’s Brand-New Medical-Weed Industry?

It turns out the so-called “green rush” that was expected in the wake of New York’s legalization of medical marijuana may not be much of a rush after all.

Since the New York State Department of Health in July selected five winning companies to receive the coveted licenses to grow medical cannabis, investors have been scouting opportunities for green. Based on data from other states, cannabis industry consulting firm GreenWave Advisors has predicted that medical marijuana sales in New York could exceed $240 million in the first year. But the state’s heavy restrictions on the medical marijuana program make investment opportunities pale in comparison to places like California or Colorado.

“Most New Yorkers don’t really have that much opportunity to invest in the cannabis industry as far as touching the plant,” says Eddie Miller, CEO of InvestInCannabis.com, which educates investors about the risks and opportunities in the cannabis industry. The companies licensed to grow cannabis are already financed, he adds. “The actual potential investment in the cannabis sector in New York is small because the market will be small.”

Some believe it could take up to two or three years before the growers start to turn a profit, which experts say is keeping investors away. Charles Smith, an attorney who represents clients in the cannabis industry, says it’s going to be an uphill climb early on for the five companies that were awarded licenses. “It’s not as if everybody who opens these businesses is becoming a millionaire overnight, mainly because of a lot of the regulatory issues. Financially, it’s not a super opportunity,” he says.

Right now the five companies — Bloomfield Industries Inc., Columbia Care NY LLC, Empire State Health Solutions, Etain LLC, and PharmaCann LLC — are getting ready to grow medical marijuana to be sold from twenty dispensaries throughout New York, with prices set by the state. The program allows growers to manufacture only five strains of cannabis medicine to treat patients who suffer from ten types of ailments — including AIDS and cancer, but excluding PTSD, diabetes, glaucoma, insomnia, and several others that are often treated with marijuana products.

Many doctors, however, are reluctant to recommend medical marijuana to patients who do qualify for treatment under the Compassionate Care Act. According to a Crain’s New York report in July, a phone survey conducted by MarijuanaDoctors.com found that only one in 500 physicians across the state was willing to write a medical marijuana recommendation to a qualifying patient. While hundreds of doctors support the Compassionate Care Act and believe in marijuana’s medicinal value, many are concerned about its federal classification as a Schedule I drug, which places it in the same category as heroin. Also, many physicians associated with hospitals that receive federal grant dollars are not allowed to participate in the medical marijuana program, Miller says.

In a state with a population of nearly 20 million, only between 50,000 and 150,000 New Yorkers are expected to qualify as patients under the Compassionate Care Act. And that figure gets further reduced by the small number of doctors willing to recommend marijuana. Miller says that until the New York legislature liberalizes its restrictions, or until marijuana laws get changed at the federal level, the market in New York will be minuscule.

“Since New York is the financial capital of the country, investors here are looking elsewhere to actually utilize their capital,” says Miller. For example, native New Yorker Paul Warshaw, founder of the medical marijuana delivery application GreenRush.com, moved to San Francisco to launch his business.

[pullquote]’I don’t want to go and grow weed, but I want to supply the shovel.'[/pullquote]

Still, New Yorkers do have opportunities to invest in technology and infrastructure to support the cannabis industry, not only in New York, but around the country, or even around the globe. Greenhouse architecture, marijuana grow lights, vaporizer pens (like electronic cigarettes), inventory tracking technology, and patient data systems are a few of the many applications that provide investment opportunities for the five companies to begin operating. The dispensaries are due to be stocked and open starting in January. “It’s probably going to be easier in the long run making money servicing the industry,” says Alan Brochstein, founder of both New Cannabis Ventures and 420 Investor. Companies that help growers lower production costs or stay compliant under the Compassionate Care Act have a lot to gain. But for the growers themselves, before the list of treatable conditions is expanded, he says, it’s going to be difficult early on.

“You’re not making money tomorrow morning,” says Golan Vaknin, CEO and founder of three cannabis technology companies, including ESEV Research and Development. But now, of the 43 companies that applied for a license to grow marijuana, the 38 that lost may be looking for other investment opportunities in New York, says Vaknin.

“In the gold rush the people who made the money were not the people who were looking for the gold, but the people who were supplying the shovels,” says Vaknin. “I don’t want to go and grow weed, but I want to supply the shovel.”

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Here Are the New York Companies That Received the Coveted Five Medical Marijuana Licenses

The New York State Department of Health on Friday announced the five companies that will receive licenses to grow medical marijuana under the Compassionate Care Act. New York’s medical marijuana program is due to be operational this January.

Each company will grow and manufacture cannabis in one location and distribute the medicine to four dispensaries scattered around the state. The selected companies are:

• Bloomfield Industries Inc., which will grow marijuana in Queens and dispense it Nassau, New York, Onondaga, and Erie
Columbia Care NY LLC, which will grow and operate a dispensary in Monroe, as well as dispense in New York, Suffolk, and Clinton
• Empire State Health Solutions, which will grow in Fulton and dispense in Broome, Albany, Westchester, and Queens
• Etain LLC, which will grow in Warren and dispense in Albany, Ulster, Westchester, and Onondaga
• PharmaCann LLC, which will grow in Orange and manufacture in Erie, Onondaga, Albany, and the Bronx

“The five organizations selected for registration today showed, through a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation process, they are best suited to produce and provide quality medical marijuana to eligible New Yorkers in need, and to comply with New York’s strict program requirements,” said Dr. Howard Zucker, New York State health commissioner.

There will be five growers and twenty dispensaries throughout New York’s 55,000 square miles.

The applicants were evaluated based on scored criteria, including product manufacturing, security, transportation, and distribution, sales and dispensing, quality assurance and staff, property and equipment, geographical distribution, architectural design, and financial standing, among other miscellaneous qualifications like “public interest.”

Each of the 43 applicants was given a score, with the highest being PharmaCann LLC at 97.12 and the lowest at 45.09 (Ross John Enterprises D/B/A Good Leaf).

Aside from each applicant’s score, the Department of Health has not made publicly available how or why their various qualifications differed. It’s unclear, for example, what an application with a high security score looks like as opposed to one with a low security score.

Many suspect the losing companies are going to contest the results. In the next six months the winning companies will begin to build their cannabis grow and manufacture facilities so that they can begin to sell the medicine by January. With the growers having been selected, many are now looking into investment opportunities.

Eddie Miller, CEO of Invest in Cannabis, says technological infrastructure is a major investment area. Developing the technology behind cannabis delivery systems, inventory tracking, and patient data will all come into the spotlight once these five companies begin to construct their operations.

The crowd at Union Square on May 2, 2015, during the <a href="https://vvstaging.villagevoice.com/slideshow/the-2015-nyc-cannabis-parade-6343679" target="_blank">New York City cannabis parade</a>
The crowd at Union Square on May 2, 2015, during the New York City cannabis parade

Policy experts and lawyers say New York’s strict medical marijuana program is meant to emulate a pharmaceutical system of production and distribution. That includes very strict monitoring of patient information and tracking cannabis distribution, as well as a ban on smoking the plant and eating it in the form of edibles.

Methods of ingesting cannabis legally and medically will likely include vaporization or oil extracts.

“It’s a very pharmaceutical cannabis industry that’s been created in New York, as opposed to loose cannabis systems elsewhere,” said Miller. In many ways, New York’s program appears to be a reaction to places like California, where the means of production and distribution are less regulated.

“Now New York has an opportunity to provide medical cannabis in a very specific extracted format. The only question is: Are doctors willing to recommend it?” said Miller. He explained that many doctors, affiliated with hospitals funded by federal dollars, may be reluctant to prescribe medical marijuana to patients.

He thinks the doctors most likely to write medical marijuana recommendations are those who not only believe in the medical merit of the plant, but also see their patients in private practice, outside hospitals.

New York’s Compassionate Care Act covers only ten conditions, including epilepsy, AIDS, and cancer.

“It will be very exciting to see how these applicants that have been awarded licenses are going to overcome these things,” said Miller.

The state still isn’t moving fast enough for MMJ advocates like State Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, who said today:

“[Patients] are still going to have months to wait before medication is available, and there will not be nearly enough dispensaries for many of these patients, for whom the delay could endanger their lives, particularly the thousands of children with serious uncontrolled epilepsy.

“The fact that the state has not moved quickly to get [cannabidiol] oil available to them is really inexcusable. I just cannot understand why anyone in government would not do everything possible to save the lives of those children.”

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New York’s Medical Marijuana Licenses Expected to Be Awarded by Friday

Update, July 31, 2015: Here are the five companies selected for New York medical marijuana licenses announced by the Department of Health.
***
The New York Department of Health is expected to announce either Thursday or Friday which five companies it has selected to award licenses to grow medical marijuana under the Compassionate Care Act. This announcement, first reported by the Daily Freeman News of Kingston, New York, may come as a welcome, if long-awaited, surprise to the 43 companies that filed their applications for medical marijuana growing licenses nearly eight weeks ago. Many began their application prep several months before the licensing application even appeared online. The selection of the winning companies marks a significant step in bringing New York’s medical marijuana program closer to fruition.

The New York “green rush” began on April 27, when the health department posted the “Application to Become a Registered Organization” — which applicants complained consisted of four poorly marked PDFs. The application period was originally slated to remain open for a month, but when the paperwork proved too difficult to complete, the state extended the deadline by a week. Originally, hundreds of companies were expected to apply, but in the end only 43 filed applications.

The small number of state licenses and the promise of big profits have attracted big-money applicants, such as Fiorello Pharmaceuticals, spearheaded by former Bear Stearns executive Ari Hoffnung. Based on data from states like California and Colorado, which have also legalized medical marijuana, research and consulting firm GreenWave Advisors predicts medical marijuana sales in New York could exceed $240 million in the first year. The application fee began at $10,000, and the companies awarded licenses will have to pay an additional $200,000 — but the bulk of the multimillion-dollar licensing budget is for lobbyists, greenhouse architects, and construction of marijuana grow and production facilities. The application requires a detailed plan from “seed to sale,” mapping out everything from greenhouse equipment to transport of the finished product to dispensaries.

The state has made available the list of companies applying, but no other details. Some companies have publicized which lobbyists are representing them and where they plan to grow medical marijuana if chosen, but others have been more tight-lipped. With millions expended on application prep — lobbying politicians while convincing skeptical municipalities to host marijuana grow facilities — some have dubbed the Compassionate Care Act the “Lobbyist Employment Act of 2015.”

With no transparency or requirement to justify the licensing decision, the state’s clandestine selection process is expected to lead to accusations of improper influence, says Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, who initially introduced the Compassionate Care Act in 1997. Gottfried believes that the investors and key players behind the companies that applied should be public. Many suspect that some of the losing companies will sue the state once the licenses are announced. Evan Nison, New York Cannabis Alliance founder, told Marijuana Business Daily that depending on the nature of the upcoming litigation, it could slow the entire process. It has already been thirteen months since Governor Cuomo first signed the Compassionate Care Act into law.

New York’s medical marijuana program — among the most restrictive in the country — is expected to go into effect this coming January. It allows for only five companies to grow cannabis to stock twenty affiliated dispensaries throughout the state’s nearly 55,000 square miles. The five licensees will be permitted to grow only five particular state-sanctioned strains of cannabis, with prices set by the Department of Health.

The program has received criticism for covering just ten “severe, debilitating, or life-threatening” conditions, such as cancer or epilepsy, while excluding conditions like glaucoma or post-traumatic stress disorder, both of which have been proven to benefit from medical marijuana treatment. The number of licensees, dispensaries, strains, and conditions could be expanded in the future.

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This Lawyer Wants to Help the Losers in the N.Y. Marijuana Sweepstakes

David Marquez likes representing the underdog.

With 31 years as a foreclosure defense attorney under his belt, he says he’s used to fighting “against the establishment.” But this summer he’s gearing his Long Island practice up for a completely new kind of legal battle. Any day now, the New York State Department of Health will select five companies out of the 43 hopefuls that applied for licenses to grow medical marijuana. That means “38 pissed-off companies” may have a bone to pick with the state. And Marquez wants to be their go-to lawyer.

With the licensing application costing, in some cases, upwards of a million dollars, he suspects losing companies may want to know why they haven’t been chosen. “Listen, If you believe you’ve been discriminated against in the licensing process, come see us,” Marquez says.

Legal challenges to the license awards would not be unprecedented: Other states that have issued medical grow licenses have faced several lawsuits claiming favoritism, errors, and lack of transparency.

In the year since Governor Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act to legalize medical marijuana in New York, legislators and the Department of Health have been slowly working to finalize regulations, release the grow license application, and, ultimately, select the winning licensees. The highly anticipated application was released without any prior notice at the end of April and was scheduled to remain open until the end of May. When the application proved too difficult to complete within a month, the Department of Health extended the due date by a week — until June 5.

In addition to the hefty price tag of the application itself (for starters, there’s a $10,000 application fee and a $200,000 fee if selected), its 33 complicated pages asked for background checks on all employees, financial documents, a “seed to sale” tracking system, architectural blueprints, and even a list of all equipment used at the marijuana grow facilities, right down to staplers. Experts say that under normal circumstances, the application would have taken at least three months to prepare.

“I found it peculiar they only gave applicants one month to do this,” says Marquez. “Much to my chagrin, whoever was putting in a licensee application must have anticipated this going back to November.” That was when the last East Coast Marijuana Business Conference and Exposition was held; the most recent was this past June at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. For those who hadn’t been preparing for months before the application was even released, their chances of completing a successful application — or completing it all — were slim. In fact, while 43 companies ultimately submitted applications, that number fell well below the estimated 300 that showed initial interest and were expected to apply. Among those 43 companies were Kannalife, spearheaded by entrepreneur Dean Petkanas, and Citiva Medical, owned by Josh Stanley, the self-proclaimed “cannabis ambassador” from Colorado.

With only five licenses to be awarded, it’s not a fair playing field, says Scott Greiper, president of Viridian Capital & Research, who counsels emerging cannabis companies. “The reality of supply and demand leans to the benefit of the wealthy and those with political influence.”

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who fathered the Compassionate Care Act, says that without any formal process that asks the state to justify how it arrived at its decision, the licensing competition could set up a “very dangerous system” leading to accusations of favoritism and improper influence.

That’s what Marquez is banking on.

“There’s certainly going to be room, at the very least, for questioning,” he says. “Where do we draw the line between an ‘arbitrary and capricious’ decision versus a decision that’s rationally based?” For instance, Marquez suggests, if all five licenses go to companies that are not minority-owned, some losing companies may be able to make claims based on discrimination. These issues could lead to judicial review or agency review over the state’s decision, Marquez adds.

The first step toward achieving transparency is for losing companies to request an explanation from the state health department as to how their applications differed from those that won. “If I put $2 million into an application, I don’t want some bullshit letter from the Department of Health and a one-paragraph answer as to why I didn’t get the license,” says Marquez. “If the answer is anything less than extremely detailed, people are going to have questions and want to answer those questions before they walk away licking their wounds saying, ‘Well, I tried.’ ”

Marquez says his strategy in most cases would likely begin with a request under New York’s Freedom of Information Law asking for the details of the winning licensees’ applications. Those not selected could then make comparisons between their applications and those of the winners — and possibly find grounds indicating they also might have won. A judge could rule that the losing applicant be awarded an additional license or be compensated for damages. “Do we find a situation where there was undue influence?” Marquez says. “And does that company deserve that license granted to be revoked, or is it just a matter of showing there was an opportunity for another potential purveyor that was equally qualified?”

Marquez has sent each company a letter congratulating it on its submission. The letter publicizes Marquez’s law practice and his eagerness to defend not only the losers, but also the winners if they later run into legal trouble. “I’m not picking one side over the other,” says Marquez, who supports medical marijuana legalization. “I want to represent everybody. I want to make sure this works.”

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This Manhattan Matchmaker Is Starting a Dating Site for Weed Smokers

Relationship guru Sandra Harmon loves “grass.” And she wishes the dozens of men she’s dated loved it, too. “There have been lots of times I’ve dated guys who don’t smoke,” says Harmon. “They look down on me. They grew up thinking pot is bad.” But now the 76-year-old matchmaking yenta has a solution: a dating site for stoners.

Inspired by hyper-targeted dating sites like JDate (for Jews) and FarmersOnly (for…farmers), Harmon’s goal is to carve out an online dating niche for medical-marijuana patients, recreational smokers, and those who may not regularly smoke, but are open to and curious about marijuana. The site is for everyone — gay or straight, young or old, those looking to hook up or to fall in love, anyone from anywhere, just as long as they give the “green” light.

Harmon expects to launch “M-Date” — the site’s working title — by the end of the summer. She says more than 100 people have already personally contacted her to sign up. The site will be hosted by a larger marijuana lifestyle website, WeedTV — a place to go for everything from political news about cannabis to a national directory of dispensaries.

While “M-Date” will be competing with other marijuana dating sites, such as the Los Angeles–based My420Mate, Harmon also plans to include a relationship blog, expert love advice, local meet-ups, seminars, and personal counseling for “M-Date” members from all over the country. In the site’s merchandise section, she plans to sell sex toys and weed paraphernalia.

According to a 2010 United Nations World Drug Report, between 119 million and 224 million adults around the globe used marijuana, including nearly 100 million from the United States. According to government surveys, more than 14 million Americans smoke marijuana on a regular basis. Combine those stats with the 33 percent of American couples who met online in 2014 — expected to rise to 70 percent by 2040 — and Harmon may have a recipe for success.

Harmon is the author of several books, including Getting To I Do and Staying Married and Loving It, and creator of the Web series The Love Judge, She’s now a professional love, dating, sex, and relationship coach — perhaps not a surprising turn for a gal who came of age during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Harmon later moved to Manhattan, where, after a short stint married to Larry Harmon — creator of Bozo the Clown — the boy-crazy Jewess fully embraced the 1960s swinger lifestyle. But Larry himself was a bozo, Harmon says, plus “he didn’t like that I smoked.”

Soon after her divorce, Harmon landed a job writing on The Dick Cavett Show, for which she ultimately won an Emmy in 1969. “When I became a writer, [marijuana] widened my focus,” says Harmon, who began smoking when she was eighteen. “It was that stimulus for me.” But even in the Sixties and Seventies, smoking marijuana wasn’t as widely accepted as it is now. Things are changing, says Harmon, ever since nearly half the country legalized medical marijuana — “people are becoming less judgmental.”

Still, even in a state like New York, where possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized and a limited medical law will go into effect next year, Harmon is shy about her use. She doesn’t like to explicitly mention it on her match.com and JDate profiles.

That’s where M-Date comes in. The site’s users won’t have to worry about awkwardly gauging their matches’ feelings about marijuana — they’ll already be speaking the same language, says Harmon. “It’s a shared camaraderie.”

“The whole movement and acceptance of marijuana has spawned a lot of events, [and] a lot of people meet at these events, so it’s also prompting social interaction and connections,” says Mark Bradley, founder of WeedTV, who says he’s excited to partner with Harmon on the dating site. “Having an online version of it is really just an extension of where society is today.”

Establishing that shared interest already gives matches an activity to enjoy together. “[Smoking marijuana] loosens you up so you’re not uptight in the beginning,” says Harmon, explaining that it heightens sensitivity and the desire to laugh, explore, and dine. “All of a sudden people enjoy music more,” says the enthusiast, “and there’s no question that the relaxation and good feelings that marijuana gives you make sex better.”

In fact, in a recent study, porn video sharing site PornHub found that “weed” was the most popular search term for its visitors, followed by “marijuana,” “pot,” “joint,” and “420.” The second most common word found in tandem with “weed,” after “smoking weed,” was “weed sex.” That’s right: smoking “grass” and getting ass may have more to do with each other than we ever thought.

But Harmon doesn’t advocate that everyone use marijuana. “If you’re going to get paranoid, don’t smoke,” she says. Her goal is merely to foster a dating community that is accepting of marijuana use.

“I wanted to do something special,” Harmon says of her dating site. “People who smoke marijuana also want love and sex and rock ‘n’ roll.” But most importantly, she adds, “nobody wants to feel judged.”

Interested in signing up for M-Date? You can contact Harmon via email or at her website.