ANN ARBOR - Om of Medicine in downtown Ann Arbor is not your run-of-the-mill cannabis dispensary. Upon entering, it feels more like an trendy hotel or spa, with calming music, a lush, living wall of plants and a posh waiting area.
Members of its staff greet each patient with a smile and take them into designated rooms for private consults. Each interaction is personal, professional and discreet.
This, according to Community Outreach Coordinator Lisa Conine, is what sets Om apart.
"Om of Medicine opened in 2010 out of the need of seeing the necessity for a more professional, clean, safe and comfortable environment," said Conine. "So (the founders) set out doing that through the private consultation rooms. That’s something that’s still extremely unique and sets us apart from every dispensary in the country."
At most dispensaries, transactions occur at a front counter, but you won't see that at Om. According to Conine, they want family and friends of patients to feel comfortable in the waiting area, which displays local art and is where its community events are held.
"In the lounge, we have local artwork that we display through our patients and also through the Prison Creative Arts Project," said Conine. "We host events there on a monthly basis. We do free comedy shows once a month, we do free yoga, a free magic show, we have live music, just fun things happening all the time.
"And then we also have a patient education group, so that takes place the last Sunday of every month. That’s super important because it’s open to our patients but also to the public. So they can bring family members, or anyone off the street can come in and learn about cannabis. Because a lot of people are obviously very curious about it, but it seems like a tricky process to get your card and to pay the state and do all these things if you don’t even know if it would be good for your situation."
The chief medical officer at Om, Evan Litinas, said due to the federal categorization of cannabis as a Schedule I substance -- a drug that is highly addictive -- he must tread carefully when consulting with patients.
"Admittedly, what we do here is not medical advice, and I have to make that clear because of scheduling that exists in the laws," said Litinas.
"We don’t offer medical advice here, but we offer a way that we’ve become a part of our patients’ health care team. Because of scheduling, a lot of physicians cannot talk to their patients. If you work in a hospital, for example, that is receiving federal funding and federal licenses and all of that, and all of a sudden they do a report and find that physicians in that hospital are talking about a Schedule I substance, you can lose your license, you can lose your livelihood. The hospital itself can close down."
Instead, he focuses on educating others from a scientific standpoint on best practices when using cannabis.
"For me, it’s important to educate our staff and educate our patients on cannabis use and how to use it, side effects, appropriate methods of administration for different conditions," he said. "So, keeping up to date with the medical literature and presenting that data and that information."
Aside from his work at the dispensary, Litinas is a published author in the fields of hematology, neuroscience and, most recently, cannabis in collaboration with the University of Michigan.
"Our first study got published in The Journal of Pain, and what we found is as people use cannabis, up to 64% decreased in opioid use and opioid side effects," he said. "It’s amazing to see. It was interesting that a dispensary can do scientific research that is actually published. And we’re very lucky to be in Ann Arbor and be collaborative with the university. The lead author is Kevin Boehnke and the senior author is Daniel Clauw. Dr. Clauw is one of the top authorities on pain in the United States, maybe the world."
From a business standpoint, medical marijuana dispensaries have faced unique challenges that still exist despite legalization.
"We can’t bank normally like other businesses," said Conine. "We’re not taxed at the same rate as other businesses. We’re paying much more in taxes to the federal government. It’s a gigantic headache. And landlords charge a higher premium for cannabis businesses because they can.
"It’s getting harder and harder for smaller businesses to survive, and I do think that comes down to the banking issue because you can’t get normal business loans, either. You have to have an angel investor if you want to make it. Especially here in Michigan, with the high licensing fees and all of that."
Even though Proposal 1 to legalize recreational use of marijuana passed in Michigan, lawmakers have until the end of the year to determine the guidelines for the regulatory framework of adult use sales.
When asked how Om of Medicine has worked to counter the stigma associated with traditional dispensaries, Conine said their strategy was increased community involvement.
"The model that we have, we feel, is the strategy to break down the stigma," she said. "Making the facility comfortable and clean and having education being a focal point of what you’re doing and also being involved in the community in a way that normalizes it.
"We are a part of the Main Street Area Association because we care about downtown life, just like any other business. We want to be good neighbors. Through that, people that we’re next to now just see us as any other business neighbor, and there’s no problem."
To learn more about Om of Medicine, visit www.omofmedicine.org.
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