ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca has not been selected as the site of any of the 20 medical marijuana dispensaries soon expected to open across New York state.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has given five companies licenses to start the dispensaries — and sell legal cannabis to very sick patients. None chose to set up shop in Ithaca.

At least three dispensaries will be opening in Central New York, however.’s Jim Mulder reported on Tuesday that the Illinois-based PharmaCann will be opening three in Onondaga County (about an hour north of Ithaca).

In addition to Onondaga County, dispensaries will be opening in the Binghamton, Rochester, Buffalo and Albany areas, according to Mulder. The program is expected to be fully operational by January 2016.

Mulder interviewed retail owners at one of the Onondaga County locations, a strip shopping center in Salina:

“Tom Tzivanni, who owns a Subway sandwich shop in the shopping center, said he’s heard the dispensary could take up three or four empty spots in the 10-storefront shopping center.

‘It’s good news to me because there will be more people coming to the strip center,’ Tzivanni said.

He hopes patients picking up medical marijuana will stop at his shop to eat or get a sub to go.

Ithaca’s failure to land a medical marijuana dispensary comes as a disappointment to Evan Nison, director of the East Coast Cannabis Division of Terra Tech, who led a push to bring medical marijuana to Ithaca.

“Ithaca was a driving force behind the law being made,” says Nison, a recent Ithaca College graduate, in an email.

“Svante (Myrick) helped with his Albany Times Union op/Ed, we had patient advocates, I lived in Ithaca for 5 years during the campaign.”

Nison has said he met about a dozen cancer patients in the Ithaca area who wanted medical marijuana but didn’t want to have to break the law to get it. “Those patients won’t have anywhere reasonably close to go,” he says.

Some critics have worried about the potential for abuse of the new program and see medical marijuana as something of a Trojan horse for legalized pot.

Nison, however, says the opposite: that access to medical marijuana doesn’t go far enough. Many appear to agree with him; medical marijuana is now legal in 23 states, and USA Today published a story today arguing that New York is one of the states most likely to legalize the drug outright soon.

“Ithaca is a city that clearly supports and would benefit from a legal and regulated cannabis industry. Many of us in the City fought for the medical marijuana law; I hope the (Department of Health) will use their authority to expand the program so patients in Ithaca will be able to benefit from it,” Nison said. “20 dispensaries across the state is clearly not enough to properly serve the patients.”

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.