Former New York City deputy comptroller runs dispensary
By Patrick Wagner
NEW YORK — Ari Huffnung knew low enrollment numbers would challenge New York’s medical marijuana industry.
The Vireo Health CEO tempered his expectations by looking at Minnesota, where Vireo’s sister company operates under similarly strict laws.
Company: Vireo Health
Locations: White Plains, Binghamton and Queens, New York
Operations: Four medical dispensaries; 40,000-square-foot indoor/greenhouse hybrid cultivation facility
When Vireo Health opened in January, there were only 250 certified patients in the entire state of nearly 20 million residents. While Huffnung said that number has increased tenfold in recent months, the patient count is still extremely low due to few qualifying conditions.
“I think that we’re fundamentally different than a lot of approaches in other states,” Huffnung said. “And that’s fine. Part of the great thing about being an American is that different states experiment with different models and we can learn from each other.”
Huffnung’s experience on Wall Street and as New York City’s deputy comptroller for budget and public affairs played a huge role in the structuring of his company. The staff at Vireo Health features experts in the fields of science, medicine and agriculture — the majority of which have doctorate degrees and plenty of real-life experience in their respective disciplines.
Vireo Health takes the philosophy that each location is strictly a medical facility; it’s a different approach than many of the nation’s earliest dispensaries. For example, state law requires each patient to be served by a licensed pharmacist, rather than just a budtender — an element that guides the interior design of every Vireo Health location. Also, New York dispensaries cannot sell flower or edibles; state law limits medicinal marijuana to vape products and capsules. However, legislative changes could be on the horizon to bolster the struggling program and allow legal access for a broader range of patients.
While Huffnung said Vireo Health is prepared to expand if it were allowed, he also acknowledged that significant change often takes time.
“Putting it in a historical context, we’re selling cannabis for the first time legally in about 100 years, and that isn’t lost on us,” he said. “We know it’s historic and we’re excited to play a small role in New York’s history.”