After a fraught path to legalization and implementation, New York's medical marijuana program will officially launch tomorrow, with the city's first dispensary opening just off Union Square at 212 East 14th Street.

Columbia Care will eventually be joined by three other dispensaries in the city limits, and is also planning to operate facilities in Riverhead, Plattsburgh, and Rochester.



But New York's dispensaries won't bear much resemblance to those in states like California and Colorado, where more lenient laws allow for an array of edibles and bud varieties: New York's highly restrictive medical marijuana law does not legalize the actual plant, only THC oils that can be vaporized, taken in pill form, or absorbed under the tongue.

"We will be providing products and services to a chronically ill patient that hasn't had a great deal of success relying on the standard of care," Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita told CNBC, who got a sneak peek at the location.

Compared to the realities of the thriving marijuana black market in New York City, security at the Union Square dispensary is almost comically thorough. According to CNBC, five cameras monitor the storefront, and customers are only allowed in after showing their registry identification cards — no one without a card can accompany them inside.

Access to those cards is also highly restrictive: it is limited to those suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, intractable spasticity caused by damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, and Huntington's disease. In California, for reference, medical marijuana cards can be issue for conditions ranging from anorexia to migraines and nausea.

Applying for a program card costs $50, and patients must receive certification from a physician registered in the program. There are currently 150 physicians across the state registered to provide certification, according to the Department of Health, which says it will eventually publish a list of those physicians. The DOH did not immediately respond to an inquiry regarding how many of those physicians are located in New York City, or how many patients have successfully registered for the program so far (the patient registry opened on December 23rd).

Medical marijuana is not covered by health insurance, but Columbia Care plans to run a program for low-income patients, according to CNBC. The city's sole facility will eventually be joined by dispensaries run by Bloomfield Industries, Empire State Health Solutions, and PharmaCann, with locations in Queens and the Bronx.

There are no dispensaries currently planned for Brooklyn or Staten Island.