Inside Brooklyn’s First Medical Cannabis Dispensary

    I‘m greeted by an employee sporting a crisp button-down and a dotted blue bow tie. Petite succulent plants decorate the counter, and shelves are lined with branded gear—water bottles and t-shirts bearing the logo “Made in Brooklyn.” Beyond glass doors, a handful of customers stroll around long tables outfitted with surface screens and display menus.

    It could’ve been a spa, a craft brewery or an Apple store. But a few things stand out: The glass doors between the lobby and showroom are armed with a digital lock requiring a staff’s key card, per New York State regulation; a corner in the showroom houses a clunky ATM, since bank cards cannot be used for purchases; and the employees are called “Budtenders” and “Patient Care Reps.” That’s because this is the first medical marijuana dispensary in New York City’s largest borough, Brooklyn.

    Citiva opened December 30 in a 2,000 square foot retail space on Flatbush Avenue. Owned by cannabis venture capitalists iAnthus, it aims to take the lead in the New York market for medical cannabis products.

    For many supporters, like Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Citiva’s Brooklyn location is a win for improving the scope of care provided in the borough (even though getting prescribed a medical ID card remains difficult).

    My administration advocated hard for our borough to be part of the State’s medical marijuana program,” says Adams, “and the long-awaited opening of this dispensary translates to quality local jobs and quality local access to critical health care.”

    Geographic accessibility was key for Citiva, especially since its external marketing campaigns were limited by state health department regulations. The dispensary is across the street from the Barclays Center, a public transit hub. Citiva is also launching a delivery program to serve patients across the borough.

    For Dr. Jack D’Angelo, Citiva’s chief medical officer, Park Slope—a “bohemian,” “liberal” and rather well-off neighborhood—is the perfect place for the company’s flagship dispensary. Other sites will be located in Staten Island and in two towns upstate.

    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has just announced a plan to legalize recreational marijuana in the next 100 days. But D’Angelo is not concerned about the need for medical cannabis abating anytime soon. “You don’t go to your liquor store for the bioflavonoids because they are in wine,” he chuckles. “You are still going to go to your health food store to get bioflavonoids, even though bioflavonoids are in wine.”  

    “Medical cannabis is a completely different industry [than the recreational industry],” Dr. D’Angelo continues. While recreational consumers are younger, the typical medical cannabis patient is over the age of 50 and usually has the disposable income to buy medicinal products not covered by health insurance. D’Angelo attributes the feasibility of the medical marijuana industry, as it currently exists in New York State, to this priveliged demographic. With so many health conditions and medicines not covered by insurance, D’Angelo suspects that customers are more willing to pay for medical marijuana out of pocket when they may already be doing so with other medicines.

    Because Citiva has not fully been assimilated into New York’s health care ecosystem, the business is a hybrid. It markets the aesthetics associated with commercial products: Its vape cartridges are stored in brightly colored round tins that could be mistaken for the fair trade chocolate sold at Whole Foods, and its vaping devices are as sleek as Apple products.

    “The store is designed to provide the most patient-friendly experience possible,” says Carlos Perea, iAnthus’s chief operating officer.

    Beyond the trendy branding, Citiva is a bona fide medical care provider, with in-house pharmacists and all. “It serves as a welcoming and educational space for people to come in and learn about cannabis as medicine, interact with our patient care representatives, and find out what works best for them,” says Perea.

    Citiva offers a selection of other companies’ oils in vape, capsule and tincture forms, as well as powders—all of which are processed from locally-sourced” plants that have not been treated with pesticides and are inspected for mold. The dispensary does not yet offer its own unique products—though that will change later this year, once its cultivation site in Warwick, New York is up and running.

    Despite the limitations experienced by medical dispensaries, such as their cash-only restriction, health department regulations, and steep prices (vapes range between $70-$145; tinctures between $49-$130, and capsules between $35-$150), Dr. D’Angelo says that Citiva will most likely remain specialized, and not move into the recreational marijuana market once it is legalized in New York State.

    D’Angelo does express concern that venture capitalists like iAnthus will find recreational markets to be more lucrative than their medical counterparts, and may divest from medical dispensaries like Citiva. But he still looks forward to recreational legalization because of the potential impact on medical consumers. “Once there is a recreational market, prices will drop dramatically and patients will really benefit,” he says, attributing this to the anticipated refinement of cannabis science and tech.  

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