Michigan: Unusual Business Opportunities Found Surrounding Medical Marijuana
by Neal McNamara
Shane Gustafson came into the business of selling vaporizer machines for use with medical marijuana was because of a sick family member.
Gustafson’s 60-year-old father was using medical marijuana for various ailments. But it got to a point where the side effects of smoked marijuana became unbearable, so his father asked if there was another way to ingest it.
“He was ready to quit,” Gustafson said. “Then he asked me to do research into vaporizer machines.”
After two months of researching the machines, which are manufactured for aromatherapy, Gustafson found and bought one for his father and eventually one for himself.
“I became a true believer,” he said. “I saw the relief my father got out of it. So, I got a hold of the manufacturer.”
Gustafson was stationed inside the Gone Wired Cafe in Lansing on Monday, the first day the state was accepting applications for its medical marijuana registry, during a medical marijuana awareness event demonstrating the machines. The marijuana is ground up — Gustafson was selling yellow plastic grinders for $3, emblazoned with images of Che Guevara and, ironically, the astrological symbol for Cancer — and then placed inside the vaporizer, he said, which draws in fresh air through a ceramic heater, neutralizing the marijuana into a vapor. The machine skips the carcinogenic smoke, leaving 96 percent of plant’s medicine, THC, behind for the patient.
Gustafson says he talked the manufacturer of the vaporizers down from the $500 retail price to $379 and sells the machines on his Web site, www.1vaporizer.com. Any profit, he said, would be slim.
“I got them to lower the cost because I’ve seen the benefit from my father,” he said.
The events at Monday’s gathering at Gone Wired may be an indication of a yet-unforeseen side effect of the new medical marijuana law — entrepreneurship.
“We’re trying to cultivate a culture of grassroots cooperatives,” says Greg Francisco, executive director of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association. “It’s money that makes that happen. We’d just like it to be socially conscious business.”
Francisco’s association bills itself as the largest nonprofit medical marijuana patient advocacy group in the state. It helped organize Monday’s event at Gone Wired and also arranged the shuttling of patients to state offices to turn in medical marijuana registry applications on Monday, the first day they could do so under the new law. By 1 p.m., about 50 patients had been taken to turn in their registrations. The association was also selling T-shirts with its logo.
Gustafson wasn’t the only medical-marijuana entrepreneur at Gone Wired.
A woman who called herself Mother of Mankind (MoM) was sitting at a booth in a corner perusing a medical marijuana trade magazine. She was at Gone Wired to find patients because she plans to be a medical marijuana caregiver, facilitating the growing and distribution of cannabis.
“I took botany in college and I thought I could use my hobby to help people,” MoM said.
She had only found one patient at Gone Wired — another, who lived in Ypsilanti, was too far from MoM’s Grand Blanc home to serve — but guessed that she probably wouldn’t ever make money off the arrangement. Under the state law, a caregiver may have 12 marijuana plants for each patient, but it is also provided that caregivers can receive compensation for expenses and services. A caregiver, however, could never sell medical marijuana.
“They’re like babies,” MoM said of cultivating marijuana plants. “With marijuana versus regular plants, it grows fast. You have to make sure you have right nutrients and the right temperature. It’s like running a nursery, and it can be expensive.”
But perhaps the most interesting businessman at Gone Wired was Paul Stanford of Portland, Ore. Stanford, a former owner of a hemp paper company, is the executive director of the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, a nonprofit that matches qualified medical marijuana patients with doctors that will write them a recommendation to get cannabis.
Stanford’s foundation recently opened an office in Southfield with Dr. Eric Eisenbud, an ophthalmologist. The foundation, which began in Portland, has offices in eight states and claims to have helped 60,000 patients get medical marijuana.
“We’ve seen about 400 patients,” Stanford said, gesturing to several stacks of medical marijuana registry applications on a table inside Gone Wired. “About 70 came in today to turn in their paperwork.”
Stanford started the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation in 2001 after a lawyer suggested to him on his cable access television show that he should start seeing medical marijuana patients. From there, he opened offices in Oregon, Hawaii, Colorado, California, Montana, Nevada and now Michigan.
Patients go to offices with their medical records in hand and must have a qualifying condition under state law that is less than 3 years old. About two-thirds of patients make the first qualification and are then seen by a doctor. After that, said Stanford, about 99 percent of patients are given a medical marijuana recommendation by the doctor.
“We’re planning to spread out with offices in Marquette and Houghton Lake,” Stanford said. “About 5 to 10 percent of the patients that go to Southfield are from the Upper Peninsula.”
Patients are charged $200 per year for the service, which includes, if necessary, criminal defense. Less well off patients pay on a sliding scale down to $150 — some patients are seen for free.
Nikki Clute, of Monroe, who goes to the Southfield office, was at Gone Wired Monday. She said that she had a long history of migraines and sought medical marijuana for relief. Before cannabis became legal in Michigan, Clute kept her own stash at home and was once arrested for possession. Without medical marijuana, she said, she would have to resort to using heavy pharmaceuticals.
“I would be so up on migraine meds that I wouldn’t be able to operate,” she said. “I’m into natural medicine. I’d rather see someone sucking on a dandelion root than on oxycontin.”