Hoffnung has big plans for medical marijuana

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Ari Hoffnung founded Fiorello Pharmaceuticals in the spring of 2014 with the aspiration to provide seriously ill New Yorkers with therapy in the form of marijuana. The Riverdale resident competed against 43 other companies for the state’s five total medical marijuana licenses. Fiorello Pharmaceuticals came in just shy of selection, winning seventh place, in July.

“It was certainly disappointing not to win a license with my prior company, but I try to be as forward-looking as possible,” said Mr. Hoffnung.

Down but not out, Mr. Hoffnung’s initial loss has evolved into a victory. He is now CEO of Vireo Health of New York, one of the businesses that won a license.

Under Mr. Hoffnung’s direction, which began on Dec. 18, Vireo will open four dispensaries for New Yorkers within the next year. Parent company Vireo Health is led by physicians and has three full-time MDs on staff. The organization’s closest location to the northwest Bronx will be in White Plains, where Vireo plans to open for business on Tuesday, Jan. 5. 

So far, New York only permits the distribution of cannabis extracts. Patients who enter one of the Vireo dispensaries will encounter pharmaceutical extracts in forms ranging from comestible capsules to cartridges for vaporizers. Those suffering from one of the conditions cited in the state’s Compassionate Care Act are eligible to receive medical marijuana from any of the forthcoming dispensaries on the recommendation of a physician.

Insurers do not cover medical marijuana, but changing the status quo is one of Mr. Hoffnung’s main goals. 

“Right now in all states, medical marijuana represents an out-of-pocket expense for patients. What that does is it creates a disproportionate burden on low-income people,” he said. “We will certainly be offering discounts to low-income patients.”

New York became the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana earlier this year, and Mr. Hoffnung believes perceptions of the industry are changing for the better. 

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