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Sunday, November 21,2010

Love! Cannabis! Compassion!

Inside Lansing's newest medical marijuana compassionate care club

by Jane Alexander

(Friday, June 11) The building at 2010 E Michigan Avenue that houses the medical marijuana Capital City Compassionate Caregivers Club isn’t fancy.

Volunteers have painted the façade  white with green trim, and an old sign for the United Nations Association has been taken down. Inside are some standard looking, beige offices and waiting rooms, a few counters selling T-shirts, tapestries, snacks and artwork, and, apart from a large, mural on a wall in the main room, there’s not much to see.

To someone who believes in marijuana stereotypes — that it will ruin your life, or that it’s all for hazed-out dudes with long hair — the club would be shockingly mundane. But that’s the whole point.
The volunteers at the club aren’t there to make a statement or, certainly, to make money. They volunteer for the single purpose of helping ease the pain of the sick, because they believe medical marijuana is the best way to do it.

“Medical marijuana is the safest painkiller known to man,” says Robin Schneider, head of the club. “I have a Crohn’s patient who is no longer experiencing any pain or dysentery. I know of diabetes patients who use it and are decreasing their insulin. It’s a magnificent medication.”


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The club is not a dispensary, a fact that Schneider is constantly struggling to make clear. No marijuana is grown, stored, sold or smoked on the premises. The club is a nonprofit organization with no paid employees, only volunteers. All of the goods they sell and all the furniture in the club was donated. The building is owned by Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann. Schneider remarked that he has been a gracious landlord.

The building is simply a clubhouse for patients and caregivers. It is only open on Saturdays and Sundays for “safe transfer” days, in which patients can use the building as a safe place to meet caregivers to exchange medical marijuana, or to discuss the medicine. A doctor is present every Sunday to help new patients get a medical marijuana registration card, and there is an attorney present to answer any legal questions. Every second and fourth Wednesday of each month, the club hosts a meeting for the public to answer any questions about the operations of the club or becoming a patient or caregiver.

Schneider hopes to add more safe transfer days, but can only open on Saturdays and Sundays until the club recruits more volunteers.

Caregivers and patients arrange payment plans privately, but Schneider said patients usually pay from $150 to $300 per ounce of medical marijuana. Caregivers often make special arrangements with patients who can’t afford their medication. Caregivers sometimes deliver medical marijuana to their patients’ home.

The club also offers a “synthetic survivors” support group to help wean people off of synthetic medications. The group has personal significance for Schneider.

“I had a spinal cord injury when I was 19. I was paralyzed, had nerve damage, was put in a wheelchair, everything. I was a wreck,” she said. “I used a lot of alternative methods—acupuncture, archipuncture, pool therapy things like that instead of surgery and learned how to walk again. But the pain never really went away. I’ve always had nerve pain, like an electrical jolt, going through my legs. I was given pain medication: Vicodin, Flexeril, morphine, a lot of pain meds. And that was really not good for me—I mean for me and my whole family. I was messed up on the pills. I didn’t abuse them but mentally I didn’t feel right from the side effects. I was ornery, I couldn’t get out of bed on time to get the kids to the bus, that type of thing. I was a wreck.”

But when she got her medical marijuana card that all changed, and now she wants to do it for others.  
“That’s what I love more than anything,” she said, “is when I treat a patient and I see the pain leave their face and the smile come and it’s like, I did it. I grew that plant, I made the medicine and I took their pain away. Literally, it chokes me up to see it happen because I know I did something good.”

The club’s other volunteers were skittish about talking to a reporter, but Schneider laughed and said it’s too late for her. A former Sunday school teacher, she talks openly about her health issues and struggles with raising four children as a single parent. She stopped receiving child support a few years ago and became a caregiver to earn some extra money.

Being a caregiver will not make you rich, Schneider said. The majority of the club’s volunteers are gardeners or horticulture students looking to supplement their income. The plant maintenance is extremely time-consuming and the equipment is approximately $5,000 to purchase and has high energy costs. It takes most of the club’s caregivers over a year to earn back the cost of the equipment. Depending on the medicine rates they arrange with their patients, Schneider says, caregivers can earn from $10,000 to $30,000 per year (not including production costs) if they are providing for the maximum five patients they are legally allowed.

A major focus of the club is to work only with local caregivers and doctors—and marijuana. The group halts any transfers in which the marijuana looks as though it were packaged and shipped from outside. They also refuse out of state doctors.

The club members want medical marijuana to earn professional respect. They hope for health insurance to eventually cover it and want to increase people’s overall understanding and cooperation with clubs into the future. And they’re not going to just sit back and wait for it to happen.

“We plan to play a very active role in this upcoming election,” Schneider said, “and we are going to make sure that everybody knows who supports us and everybody knows who’s against us. We’re a 501 ( c) 3 and 4, so we are allowed to raise funds for political events and political support. And so we intend to use a lot of the money that comes from the club to make sure the right people get into office. And we are a huge voting block. I think 74 percent in Ingham County passed this, it’s a huge number of supporters.”

The club does not support a particular candidate yet. When they do, they plan to inform the community through their Wednesday meetings.

Group members also frequently attend political events and Lansing City Council meetings.

“This building is a really great location. We’re right down the street from the Capitol, so anytime our patients’ rights get violated we can just march right down the street with our signs,” Schneider joked.

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