Tech company looks to cash in on medical pot laws

By Frank Witsil Detroit Free Press BIRMINGHAM (AP) -- A small, publicly traded tech company hopes to cash in on Michigan's medical marijuana laws by offering patients apps to find doctors to write them recommendations, digital identification cards and cashless transactions at marijuana distribution centers. MediSwipe recently moved its headquarters to Birmingham from Florida and plans to open additional workspace in Ann Arbor in May -- and hire a dozen employees. The company hopes to capitalize on the growing medical marijuana industry, which by some estimates may be $2 billion nationally. By next year, as states like Michigan consider revisions to medical marijuana laws, CEO Michael Friedman said he hopes to have thousands of customers who can turn to the company to help them navigate state laws and paperwork in a similar way that financial services companies help customers file for their income tax refunds each year. "We want to be known as the H&R Block -- or the TurboTax service -- of the industry," Friedman told the Detroit Free Press. MediSwipe seeks to offer patients a way to digitally store their medical records and other documents -- such as a Medical Marijuana Card -- which may be required to get medicinal marijuana. The company will help put them in touch with doctors -- and help them make electronic payments at medical marijuana distribution centers. MediSwipe would make money, Friedman said, by charging fees for the services -- most about $20. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who opposes legalizing marijuana, including medical marijuana, urged MediSwipe to be careful. "If they perform a legitimate service and operate within the confines of the law, there is nothing I can do to stop it," he said. Michigan isn't the only state the company is operating in -- and the national trend toward allowing marijuana for medical use is driving the company's plans to expand, Friedman said. Friedman said the company is moving to Michigan because of its medical marijuana laws and plans to focus on providing services to patients who use marijuana for medical purposes. The 4-year-old company also operates in California, Colorado, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Friedman said he hopes the company will be profitable by the third quarter. Still, some of what the company wants to do is incumbent on what the Michigan Legislature decides. A bill recently introduced, for example, seeks to legalize medical marijuana distribution centers. The proposal would let individual communities decide whether to allow such centers -- and where they can be located. But a Michigan Supreme Court ruling was interpreted to ban public facilities that distribute medical marijuana. "Our whole reason for being is to legitimize the industry -- and track transactions," Friedman said. Published: Wed, Mar 6, 2013