Patients scramble to fill prescriptions as 72 medical marijuana facilities closed by LARA

    FILE - This Sept. 11, 2018, file photo shows blankets of frost known as trichomes on a budding marijuana flower at an artisanal cannabis farm SLOgrown Genetics, the coastal mountain range of San Luis Obispo, Calif. Liberal California became the largest legal U.S. marketplace, while conservative Utah and Oklahoma embraced medical marijuana. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel,File)

    The new year has brought back old problems for medical marijuana patients as provisioning centers are shut down across the state.

    Lake Effect provisioning center in Portage and 71 other facilities across the state were closed by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) on Dec. 31, which has some patients scrambling to figure out where they’ll get their medicine.

    "Without Lake Effect, I'm limited as to what I can do. I have to stretch what meds as far as I can,” Elizabeth Ouding said.

    Ouding, 52, of Kalamazoo, has developed a doctor-patient-like relationship with the staff at Lake Effect, and doesn’t trust anywhere else to get her medicine.

    “I’ve gone to other places and had to sign a waiver saying what I was getting wasn’t tested,” Ouding said. “At Lake Effect, my cream, I know what I’m getting.”

    Up until Dec. 31, licensed provisioning centers could sell untested products to patients, but David Harns with LARA said that allowance expired with the new year, and as of Jan. 1, all products sold at licensed provisioning centers must be tested by licensed safety compliance facilities, such as The Spott Laboratory in Kalamazoo.

    Even then, Ouding said, she knows what she’s getting from Lake Effect, and doesn’t want to gamble on her health and mobility.

    "Jumping around to different provisioning centers trying to find the right medicine has taught me the only one that has it is Lake Effect. And being on a fixed income, I can’t really afford to pay for something that’s not going to work,” Ouding said.

    Ouding describes her pain without her medicine as an eight out of 10. When she has her medical marijuana cream, she said, her pain goes down to a three, and she’s able to perform most normal everyday tasks.

    "I've been thinking about taking on a job where I can stand six hours a day, because it helps that much,” Ouding said. “If I don’t have my meds, I can feel it. It's like a big cramp in my back. I can't move."

    As of Jan. 2 there are only five licensed provisioning centers operating in Southwest Michigan. According to LARA, they are:

    • The Green Door Bangor in Van Buren County.
    • Breedsville Provisioning Center in Van Buren County.
    • Compassionate Care by Design in Kalamazoo.
    • Green Bronco in Battle Creek, Calhoun County.
    • Aim High Meds in Tekonsha, Calhoun County.

    One of the most recent provisioning centers to open in Michigan is Compassionate Care by Design in Kalamazoo. Manager Jason Mischen said they opened for business Dec. 1, and all the product they sell is tested at The Spott, a safety compliance facility.

    “Business has been great so far,” Mischen said. “Things have picked up immensely since we’ve been open.”

    Some have criticized LARA for the state agency's speed in processing applications. Harns said they have been working to streamline the process, and they’ve already approved 99 licenses across five categories.

    “We’ve been speeding up our processes throughout the year, taking more steps to be more efficient, making sure the board has information quickly. Some of it has to do with applicants getting back to us in a timely manner. Some of it is us getting our legs underneath it,” Harns said.

    Some medical marijuana license applications are in limbo with either the state or local municipalities, but the number of active and licensed provisioning centers and other license categories are expected to grow over the next year. Battle Creek has received 39 applications, and Kalamazoo 36 applications from prospective marijuana businesses.

    Meanwhile, other large municipalities such as Portage and Grand Rapids have put moratoriums on accepting applications for medical or recreational marijuana facilities.

    Grand Rapids’ medical marijuana moratoriums are set to expire in March, while Portage did not set an expiration date for its moratorium on recreational marijuana. Portage currently is accepting applications for medical marijuana facilities.

    In Southwest Michigan, several municipalities have opted in to allow medical marijuana facilities as of Nov. 30. LARA has a spreadsheet available online.

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