Unless you’re looking for it, you might not notice it.
There’s no big sign, just a subtle green logo that indicates the way to this business in downtown Ann Arbor, tucked among shops, restaurants, banks and municipal buildings.
You step into a recessed doorway and press the button next to another little green logo to be buzzed in.
Three flights of stairs up — in trendy urban office space once inhabited by Google — you’ve “made it Om,” they joke at Om of Medicine, a medical marijuana dispensary.
It’s one of 13 in the city, where cannabis has been widely accepted for decades. Dispensaries, also called provisioning centers, have operated here for the past several years under a gray area of the 2008 Michigan law that first allowed for medical marijuana use.
This year, dispensaries will begin to pop up around the state in communities that have opted to join in the commercial cannabis system established under a 2016 Michigan law. There could soon be as many as seven dispensaries in the Niles-Buchanan area.
With the emergence of the industry comes growers, processors, testing facilities and transporters, but dispensaries will be the most public face of medical marijuana — a store where patient meets cannabis.
At Om of Medicine in Ann Arbor you can get an idea of how a dispensary operates, and this particular business plans to expand to Buchanan.
Om is on track for city approval to open Om of Buchanan at 120 E. Front St. in downtown Buchanan. That’s in the former Brimfield Building, which has stood empty for several years after a furniture store fizzled. City Manager Bill Marx said Om could be the first dispensary to receive its permit in Buchanan, maybe as soon as Feb. 12.
Sometime later this year — after about half a million dollars in remodeling is done, and after the state issues business licenses — patients could be visiting the Buchanan store.
What they’ll find there will be pretty much like what they would find in Ann Arbor, co-owner Keith Lambert said.
It doesn’t look or feel like a retail operation, but instead features a cozy waiting area and private consultation rooms.
Lambert said that when he and his business partner, co-owner Mark Passerini, established Om in 2010, they set out to create a business that “would change hearts and minds” about medical marijuana, which they think could go a long way toward solving the opioid epidemic as well as spiraling health care costs.
“We felt the need to show these things could be done right, that this is not a den of iniquity,” Lambert said.
Om has a little Eastern vibe, seen in the name and logo, and in some Buddhist and Hindu objects on display that Lambert, a former commodities trader, collected during a trek in the Himalayas.
Their logo looks like a sun with green petals and squiggles in the middle. The squiggles are actually Sanskrit for “om,” a mantra that in Eastern philosophy represents the energy of the universe, Lambert said.
They rejected what he calls the “bank teller, pawn shop” environment they found in other medical marijuana dispensaries and focused instead on private consultation, patient education and creating a calm, comfortable atmosphere.
The space features finished wood floors, area rugs, soft modern furniture and lots of colorful original paintings for sale by local artists.
Lambert said private consulting rooms are where everything happens, from education, to looking over the products, to completing the sale. That privacy is good for the patient and is also one part of Om’s security measures in a “cash heavy” business, Lambert said. Om of Medicine has two consultation rooms, and so will Om of Buchanan.
In Ann Arbor, for instance, one of the consulting rooms has a warm yet slightly clinical feel with lots of natural light, bright green area rugs, white furnishings, glowing lamps and a glass tray on the desk filled with small clear jars of cannabis buds, labeled with names like “LA Confidential” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” Small pill boxes hold cannabis capsules, a popular product. Along the wall are shelves displaying little brown bottles of cannabis oils, and “medibles” (medical edibles) like “pot corn” and chocolate bars.
Prices aren’t apparent, but a quarter ounce of Zero Dark Thirty cannabis, for example, is $90 on the Om website and is described as a good treatment for different pains, headaches and inflammation. Individual capsules can range in price from $1 to $16. The pot corn, which is said to help arthritis and insomnia among other things, sells for $15 per bag.
Om has “cannabis consultants” on staff who have learned about the plant and how, through anecdotal evidence and the research that’s available, it’s been known to help treat physical ailments. Lambert said they share this information with patients, discuss the patient’s condition, what might be a good product to treat it and set up a regimen to try.
A medical thrust is evident at Om. A medical doctor on staff, Dr. Evan Litinas, helps to guide general treatment outlines and product selection, and has been involved on behalf of Om in medical cannabis studies with the University of Michigan. One study was published in the Journal of Pain in 2016.
Lambert compares what they do to something like a nutritionist helping to find the right diet for a person.
The goal of medical marijuana, he said, isn’t to offer a cure but to offer relief from pain and symptoms. He maintains cannabis does that more safely and cheaply than traditional pharmaceuticals.
Since opening eight years ago, Om has seen more than 15,000 patients, Lambert said, from children with epilepsy and their caregivers to seniors with cancer. Some drive from as far away as the Upper Peninsula and some drive the nearly three hours from Berrien County.
Lambert said the Ann Arbor dispensary, which has a dozen employees, may see 70 to 80 patients per day. He expects about 20 to 30 patients per day at the Buchanan location, which will employ eight to 10 people.
They hope sales the first year in Buchanan will be at least “six figures,” Lambert said, and by year two or three, seven figures.
As in Ann Arbor, the Buchanan dispensary will be security conscious, he said, with unobtrusive surveillance cameras. Patients will be buzzed past a locked front door into a lobby, where they check in by showing their medical marijuana card and ID. From there, they’ll be admitted through a locked door to the waiting lounge until being taken to a consultation room.
And as in Ann Arbor, Lambert expects that the Buchanan location will maintain a fairly low profile, not so much interested in signs and banners as in fitting into the neighborhood, doing charitable work and working collaboratively with other businesses.
“Integrating with the community, not being something that is antagonistic with it — that’s a big part of our MO,” Lambert said.
There could be up to four other dispensaries just in Buchanan, but Lambert said they’re not really worried about competition.
“Wherever we go, we’re not as concerned with competition because we feel we have a unique niche in which we operate,” Lambert said. “In fact, other businesses might draw more people.”