Judy VanDam is a firm believer in the capability of marijuana to relieve symptoms caused by some illnesses because she has seen results first-hand.
“I believe in it…mainly because of the people who come in here and their stories… someone who can now work in their garden, or their seizures have stopped,” said VanDam, owner of Grand Rapids Alternative Care located at 4582 West River Dr. in Comstock Park. “It changes people’s lives.”
At Grand Rapids Alternative Care, people with qualifying conditions are guided through the process of medical marijuana certification. The laws regarding medical marijuana are complicated and can be confusing, said VanDam, and the folks at Grand Rapids Alternative Care can answer questions and help out with issues that may arise regarding medical marijuana.
Besides through her work, VanDam also has a personal experience with the effects of medical marijuana. Her husband Mike had multiple surgeries over more than a decade for a ruptured colon. The surgeries left scar tissue which caused him extreme chronic pain to the point that “he couldn’t do anything,” said VanDam He was on numerous medications, she said, and none of them gave him much relief. On a trip to a game at the University of Michigan, her husband noticed a sign about medical marijuana and decided to learn more. He went through the process of getting a medical marijuana card. The marijuana relieved his pain considerably, and “he was able to do things again,” said VanDam.
That inspired her husband to help others get a medical marijuana card, and he opened Grand Rapids Alternative Care in Cascade in 2010. VanDam managed the office and the accounting. Her husband died in a farm accident in 2011, and VanDam took over the business. The building where they had leased space was going to be renovated, and VanDam decided to move. She found the Comstock Park space she has leased since 2012 through a realtor, and said she likes the accessibility. “It’s easy for patients to find,” said VanDam. “The highway is close.
Besides VanDam there are two employees – an office manager and Dr. Deborah Margules. There is an entry and waiting area, the doctor’s office, a consultation room, two rooms for files and storage, and a room staff uses to make calls to patients. Most of the advertising is through word of mouth and referrals from doctors.
To obtain a medical marijuana license, a person first needs their medical records from their primary care physician or specialist. Staff at Grand Rapids Alternative Care can tell them what records they need. They meet with Dr. Margules who does the certifications. Staff helps with the paper work which gets sent to the state. The State of Michigan issues the Medical Marijuana Registry Identification cards, said VanDam, adding, “The state is the final authority.” Staff at Grand Rapids Alternative Care can also help patients find a caregiver.
VanDam said cities in Michigan vary widely in how “marijuana friendly” their laws are. She said the laws in Lansing, Detroit, and Traverse City are more liberal than Grand Rapids for example. It is illegal to buy medical marijuana from anyone but your caregiver, she said, adding new laws recently passed address the growing and transporting of marijuana as well as dispensaries, but it will take until 2018 to implement. The State of Michigan web site has complete information on marijuana laws in the state.
VanDam, who has two grown children, grew up in Wyoming and graduated from Rogers High School. She now lives in Marne on a farm where she has horses, cats, and dogs. She likes horseback riding and trains dogs.