Paul Farage, left, and Tony Holmes started SOHAI out of frustration with Michigan’s fledgling medical marijuana certification process. Photo by SOHAI
With the possibility of Michiganders voting on legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in November, a Grand Rapids-based clinic is keeping an eye on how that change could affect its bottom line.
The Society of Healing Arts Institute (SOHAI) — at 1505 Lake Drive SE in Grand Rapids, with a second site in Roosevelt Park — opened on April 20, 2012, or 4/20, as co-owners Paul Farage and Tony Holmes pointed out.
Farage said the clinic was born out of frustration with Michigan’s fledgling medical marijuana certification process.
“What happened was we went to get certified as medical marijuana cardholders in 2012, and it was a very seedy, back-alley-abortion-clinic kind of atmosphere,” Farage said.
“It was in a hotel and packed with people. I paid $250 for a certification, and it did not include anything besides the doctor visit, not the state fees or application. It was so impersonal, and we thought, ‘What if we went into business and did it better?’”
Farage said SOHAI has grown every year compared to the previous year.
“From 2016 to 2017, we saw an additional 1,200 patients and increased our retail by $70,000,” he said.
Farage added it’s hard to plan for expansion. If the state legalizes recreational use, the need for clinics and dispensaries could disappear.
“You’ll be able to buy marijuana in a party store,” he said.
He also said one of the changes predicted for the industry is marijuana’s removal from the Schedule 1 drugs roster, which includes heroin, LSD and ecstasy but excludes methamphetamines, cocaine and opioids.
“I’m willing to bet by the end of 2018, marijuana will not be a Schedule 1 drug,” Farage said. “Our business could come to an end, but we will transition into something else. Hospital education or niche markets where people specialize in specific types of marijuana.”
Farage and Holmes knew each other from attending Grand Rapids Community College — then Grand Rapids Junior College. They had stayed in touch off and on over the years, Farage living in Hawaii and California and Holmes in Chicago.
Holmes was in Grand Rapids one day for his aunt’s funeral. After going to the clinic at the Howard Johnson hotel, they grabbed coffee to talk about their experience, and the idea for SOHAI was born.
Farage currently lives in Grand Rapids, and the pair jointly own SOHAI — Farage as COO and Holmes as CEO from his home in Chicago. They have 10 employees between their Grand Rapids and Muskegon locations.
The business is a medical marijuana certification clinic, which means it helps people become licensed to use medicinal cannabis with the oversight of a board-certified physician who comes on-site to do evaluations of patients.
SOHAI also offers cannabis support groups, education, essential oils, aromatherapy and other alternative health approaches.
Although the clinic is not a licensed dispensary, it distributes a list of mostly Lansing-area dispensaries with which it has established relationships where patients can go to buy their medicines.
Michigan voters legalized medical marijuana in 2008, but the state — and municipalities — have deliberated for years over how to regulate the industry and what forms of cannabis can be used, who can grow, who can sell and who can use.
Grand Rapids decriminalized possession and use in 2013, but law enforcement officials raided and cracked down on several unlicensed dispensaries in 2016, and now there are no dispensaries in the metro area.
Gov. Rick Snyder signed three bills into law in 2016 collectively called the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act, and it legalized the use of nonsmokable forms of medical marijuana, including edibles, vaping, CBD oil and pills.
The legislation also created a licensing board to oversee the growth, sale and distribution of the substance — and permitted municipalities to pass ordinances on whether to allow dispensaries, which Kent County has not yet done.
In the meantime, it’s perfectly legal for patients with a qualifying condition to get a medical marijuana card and buy their medicine through a certified caregiver or through a dispensary outside Kent County and bring it back home.
Qualifying conditions include cachexia/wasting syndrome, PTSD, chronic pain, seizures/epilepsy, severe/persistent muscle spasms, arthritis, cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease and nail patella/HOOD syndrome.
To get medical marijuana-certified at SOHAI, patients must schedule a consultation and bring their medical records in to be reviewed to see if they qualify for certification. The practice is HIPAA-compliant, so patient records are kept confidential.
Next, patients have to establish a relationship with either an M.D. or D.O., which SOHAI facilitates over the course of two subsequent visits.
If the patient qualifies, the clinic sends an application and payment to the state of Michigan to be processed, then the state issues a license.
SOHAI’s relationship with the patient can continue after they get certified.
“If a patient needs education, as soon as they come in, we try to get them up to speed,” Farage said. “A lot of these patients have never used it and they don’t want to smoke, so they need to understand how to use the other forms.
“We create a chart — what strain of marijuana are they going to use? … What are they using it for, how often, at what dosages, what are their side effects? What are the positives, negatives? Do they smoke it, vape it, use a brownie or cookie, or take it in a pill? The actual progress of a patient could take months.”
Holmes said the clinic has had good success, especially with seizure patients.
“We had a woman move here who had 300 seizures a week, connected her with a caregiver network and a cannatonic strain (of medical marijuana), and within one week, she was down to three seizures in a week, and her parents heard her laugh for the first time ever.”
Holmes and Farage said they are working to establish relationships with traditional health providers, so as the medical marijuana industry becomes more mainstream, they can be a resource.
“We’d like to be able to offer informative seminars to Spectrum and other health systems,” Holmes said.
“We want to tailor it more specifically to doctors, so they can be more educated about cannabis rather than it just being ‘dope.’ It is the future of medicine.”