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First Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Open Across New York

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- New York's measured foray into medical marijuana began Thursday with eight out of 20 dispensaries opening their doors.

A grand opening celebration was held outside Columbia Care on East 14th Street, the first dispensary to open in New York City.

Columbia Care and Vireo Health in White Plains are two of the dispensaries that opened across the state, about 18 months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a medical marijuana bill into law.

"I'm so excited and happy," Bronx resident Colleen Pecoraro told CBS2's Andrea Grymes. She said it's good news for her husband, who has multiple sclerosis. "It's supposed to help alleviate their pain. They have a lot of numbness and tingling."

Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita said medical marijuana has been shown to be more effective at treating many illnesses compared to other pharmaceuticals.

"This is all about patient care and improving the quality of life for people who haven't had as much success working within the existing sort of standard of care," he said.

But New York has some of the strictest rules among the more than 20 states that allow medical pot.

It is the only state besides Minnesota to limit medical marijuana to non-smokeable extracts delivered in forms such as capsules, vaporizers and liquids taken orally, and it's one of few states with a physician training requirement.

"There's no smoking, there's no joints, there's no edibles, there's no pot brownies," Ari Hoffnung of Vireo Health told WCBS 880's Sean Adams.

New York limited its program to 20 dispensaries and a short list of qualified conditions such as cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and some spinal cord injuries, among others.

And not anyone can just show up and buy medical marijuana. They must be certified through the state from a registered doctor.

Patients and their advocates fear New York is putting up too many roadblocks. But some opponents have expressed concern the law is the first step toward full legalization.

Reaction to the dispensaries was mixed.

"I think it's a very, very, very good thing, and it can help people who actually genuinely need it," said Zach Gold, a business owner near Columbia Care.

"There's no reason why we can't ease their suffering," another man told 1010 WINS' John Montone.

"The facility needs to make sure it has security, that people aren't going to be breaking in or misusing it," said one woman.

"Oh, we don't need that," said another.

"There won't be lines around the corner," Vita said. "There won't be disruptions on the street. We have a working relationship with law enforcement to make sure everyone's happy from a community perspective."

The state says, so far, 150 doctors have registered across New York. Another 12 dispensaries will open across the state over this month.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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