Takeaway: The journey from a life-changing accident to owning a cannabis dispensary has been a long and arduous one for Ryan Milkey, proprietor of Northern Specialty Health in Michigan. A former electrician, Milkey is now providing medicine to countless patients in the Upper Peninsula and has recently opened a second location.
Ten years ago, Ryan Milkey, now the owner of the medical marijuana dispensary Northern Specialty Health in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was pursuing his career as an electrician.
Back then, he would never have dreamed of becoming a medical marijuana dispensary owner because pursuing a career in the electrical trade was his passion.
This is not to say that he didn’t understand the healing powers of cannabis. He acknowledges that he experimented with cannabis in high school as both a recreational drug and a medicine for pain relief. Milkey was a football player who, like most football players, had sustained some serious and painful hits throughout his days on the gridiron.
“Looking back, it was like I was subconsciously choosing cannabis as a medicine for pain instead of pain pills or alcohol,” says Milkey of his cannabis use in high school. Cannabis helped him stay “mentally grounded” when other substances, including alcohol, could make him feel aggravated or uncomfortable.
However, Milkey’s electrical career, and just about everything else in his life, completely changed in June of 2007. A horrendous four-wheeler accident left him with a broken neck and back and five broken ribs.
Lucky to be alive, Milkey spent several months rehabilitating his damaged body. Though fortunately still able to walk, he suffered substantial nerve damage that affected the proper use of certain leg muscles and experienced severe ongoing nerve-related pain in his feet.
After the accident, Milkey worked as much as he could but was unable to continue his electrical job in the same capacity. Working around his body’s good and bad days, he at times needed to lie down throughout the day, which made it difficult to maintain an electrician’s typical schedule.
Still, battling the physical pain from his accident and on a slew of prescription painkillers that left him feeling “groggy and irritable,” he continued to do side jobs to make ends meet.
Milkey’s lack of stability in the workplace wasn’t the only new hardship he acquired.
After fighting just to stay alive immediately after the accident, Milkey was then left with another problem: an addiction to prescription painkillers, including hydrocodone and fentanyl.
“They would work at first, but then I would build up a tolerance and need more. So, I would take more and then I would run out before my prescription was ready to be filled,” he says. In the time between prescription refills, it was not uncommon for Milkey to experience withdrawal symptoms. “This was not only extremely hard on me, but it was a very difficult time for my family.”
Milkey knew he could not continue in the way he was headed, for his own sake and for the sake of his family. Remembering his experiences with cannabis in high school, Milkey decided to get a medical marijuana card with some encouragement from his wife, Penny. After voters approved the initiative in 2008, Milkey became one of the first patients to receive a medical marijuana card in the state of Michigan.
Like others before him who had searched for effective alternatives to addictive pharmaceuticals, Milkey decided to take the propagation of his medicine into his own hands. He grew his own cannabis and experimented with a variety of extracts to see what would help his condition the most.
With the help of medical marijuana, Milkey weaned himself off all opioids; something he describes as “life-saving”. Cannabis became his principal pain medication, supplemented by only one other pharmaceutical for his nerve problems.
At this time, Northern Specialty Health was already operating in Houghton, MI. As Milkey grew his own cannabis and made his own extracts, he had only visited the dispensary on a couple of occasions.
In 2013, Milkey heard there was a possibility the dispensary might close its doors.
Passionate about the healing power of cannabis, Milkey was appalled at the possibility of the local dispensary closing.
“I just couldn’t bear the thought of them closing down a facility which supplied a medicine that was so life-changing for me,” he says. Until then, he had never thought about owning this, or any other, dispensary.
After some discussion, Milkey and Penny decided to buy Northern Specialty Health. They took over ownership on December 22, 2013.
Since purchasing the business, the Milkeys have helped supply high-quality medicinal marijuana to countless patients in the Upper Peninsula.
In April of 2015, Northern Specialty Health expanded and opened a second dispensary location in Calumet, MI.
Supplied with a with a wide variety of cannabis-based medicines, Northern Specialty Health is stocked with cannabis flowers, Rick Simpson Oil, tinctures, gel caps, shatter, wax, kief, RSO lotion, and moon rocks (cannabis bud dipped in RS oil and then dipped in kief).
They also stock a wide variety of edibles, including gummy bears, fruit leathers, caramels, infused honey, brownies, and cakes. Aside from the medicine itself, Northern Specialty Health also supplies vaporizers and smoking accessories.
“We would love to be known as a dispensary that consistently provides the highest quality medicine,” says Milkey.
Since the Milkey’s took over as owners, Northern Specialty Health’s mission has been to focus on quality over quantity. “We’re not worried about growing really big or getting rich. Our priority is supplying safe and high-quality medicine to patients in need.”