Vince Volovlek’s life took a left turn when he nearly lost his right arm eight years ago.
The 28-year-old with long, reddish hair didn’t plan on operating a successful medicinal marijuana lotion brand at this point in his life. He hadn’t planned on much at all. He was 20 and had an itch to head out West, but fate intervened.
“I thought I’d be just like all my friends,” he said from the brightly lit, echoey white room where he and his “right-hand man” Grant Colbry fill THC capsules and jars with scented cremes. “They’re just wandering. They’re couch-hopping. Some of them are wildfire fighters and just get a year’s worth of money for those few months and just kind of slum it up those next few months. And that’s kind of what I envisioned my life to be.
“And then this happened and I’ve just been working.”
Volovlek raises his sleeve to reveal a scar. It looks like a healed shark bite, but it’s not. There’s a long titanium rod accompanied by nine screws that runs the length of his humerus bone. It looks like a chunk of meat is still missing. There’s a divot on the bottom of his bicep. A relocated vein from his ankle is now his artery.
His nearly fatal injury inspired him to create an award-winning product, Michigan Organic Rub, a medicinal cannabis lotion that was bought by Pincanna Labs. Farmington Hills-based Pincanna operates a marijuana shop in Kalkaska with two more set to open in East Lansing and Kalamazoo. The company hired Volvolek as an employee.
He keeps an office and production room in Pincanna’s enormous, 135,000-square-foot commercial grow and processing facility in Pinconning, just off Interstate 75, surrounded by farm fields.
Volvolek’s original script involved moving from his hometown to Yellowstone National Park to work folding laundry.
“I just wanted to see the world,” he said. “I just wanted to get out of Grand Haven. So that was my plan and it’s not what the universe had planned for me.”
It was summer time, 2013. Spirits were high. The future was ahead of them.
Volovlek, a 2010 Grand Haven High School grad and a couple friends were having a summer gathering before heading off somewhere, or nowhere, to pursue their fuures.
They’d gathered on some land in White Cloud, a forested town on the banks of the White River about 45 miles north of Grand Rapids. Volovlek sat between two friends as they rode off-road trails in a Polaris Ranger, a sort of a speedy, souped-up, off-road golf cart. The driver took a hairpin turn on some two-tracks going no more than 5 mph and gunned it.
The 1,000-pound-plus off-road vehicle caught a patch of gravel and unexpectedly began to tip onto its side. It usually wouldn’t have been that treacherous of a crash, but Volovlek said he had nothing to grab onto, so he instinctually put his arm out toward the fast-approaching ground. The UTV’s safety roll bar landed on his arm, with the weight of the vehicle on his body.
The blood came quick. The driver saw it and froze, like “an absolute ghost because he was in shock,” Volovlek said.
“I severed my artery, so I was bleeding out,” he said. “I had a couple of minutes before I was about to die.”
Seth Colbry, another passenger whose brother Volovlek described as his “right hand man” with Michigan Organic Rub, remembers being ejected onto the gravel and dirt.
Colbry looked back toward the off-road vehicle and saw Volovlek’s mangled arm “hanging out of it.”
“It looked like he had a second elbow above his elbow,” Colbry, 28, of Grand Haven, said by phone after battling a wildfire in Idaho on Thursday evening.
Colbry said he mustered all his “mom strength” and lifted the Ranger, allowing Volovlek to slide out from beneath it. He’d just begun taking EMT classes in preparation for his current job as a wildlife firefighter, so he had some knowledge of what to do next.
He took the driver’s T-shirt and tied off the wound that was trickling blood at a very rapid pace, sort of like a chocolate fountain — if chocolate were crimson.
Colbry said it was clearly a “life or death situation.” They set off on the several-mile ride to the house where they were staying. Volovlek was in and out of consciousness.
Looking back, Volovlek said his friend “went into Superman mode.”
“If it wasn’t for his fast acting, I definitely would have had my last breath in those woods that day,” Volovlek said from his office last week.
On his desk is a hat with a corncob emblem, a gift from a friend who operates a food truck in Saginaw. Nearby is a framed picture of University of Michigan basketball great and current coach Juwan Howard from his playing days.
After his accident, Volovlek spent a week in the hospital recovering from surgery. His doctor was a former Vietnam War military medic.
“I was told nine out of 10 doctors would have amputated my arm, so I end up getting the one doctor that that is used to grenade wounds, which is kind of what my arm looked like,” Volovlek said.
The arm was saved. Volovlek was bedridden, his dreams of a simple life in Yellowstone National Park placed on hold.
Volovlek felt trapped. His arm was immobilized in a giant cast. His thoughts were clouded by nine different prescription drugs, including opiates doctors prescribed to help him endure the pain.
There were mornings he awoke feeling “drunk” from the medication. He grasped walls to keep his balance.
“All these pills, all these doctors visits, all these things were taking a toll on me,” Volovlek said. “So in the coming weeks of just doing nothing, I just read and read and Google-searched and looked up ingredients and organic ways of healing and pain relief. And I came up with the idea of making a lotion.”
Volovlek had little involvement with marijuana at the time, beyond enjoying a joint “here and there,” but THC oil was to become a key ingredient in the entirely organic concoction he dreamed up. It became a reality when he pulled out the pots and pans and got to work in his mom’s kitchen.
Volovlek created and began using a THC-based rub on his arm and said it worked to reduce the pain. He stopped taking the pills.
“I just wanted to get my life back, so then once I created the rub and it really started working well, I started to pass it out to friends, family,” he said. “And once I started getting feedback, people saying, ‘Hey, this is helping with my back pain,’ or, ‘This took my migraines away,’ or, ‘My menstrual cramps are gone,’ all these crazy things we were hearing, I’m like, OK, I should probably run with this.”
Volovlek created his brand, Michigan Organic Rubs, and pitched a trade to a medical marijuana dispensary in Lansing to see if they would carry it in exchange for some THC oil, an ingredient he sorely needed. The owners were skeptical at first but after a lot of convincing agreed.
“When it really started working for his patients he hit me up and was like, ‘Sorry, I should have listened to you,’” Volovlek said. “Let’s get this going.”
Seth Colbry said Volovlek had lots of friends and a magnetic, “cool stoner kid” personality that everyone gravitated to in high school, so it was odd when he sort of went into “hermit mode” following the accident.
“No one heard anything from him for a while,” Colbry said, “So when he came up with the rub, it was cool to see him come back to life and become normal Vince again.”
Then, the grind began. Sixteen-hour days were the norm.
Michigan Organic Rubs began to grow. Volovlek moved processing from his mother’s kitchen to her basement, and later to his ex-girlfriend’s parents’ house. Eventually, 105 dispensaries across the state were placing orders. Volovlek wasn’t rich, but he was earning a better living than if he were folding laundry at Yellowstone.
The growth continued for years.
“I want to say 2017 was the year things really took off for us,” Volovlek said. “That’s when we started winning our (High Times) Cannabis Cups.”
High Times, which started as a marijuana magazine in 1974, holds national and regional competitions for marijuana growers and products. It’s a badge of honor and a stamp of approval within the industry to win one. Michigan Organic Rub won five.
Michigan began issuing medical marijuana business licenses in 2016 and recreational licenses in 2019.
“When licensing came about, it was very hard for someone like me to get a license,” Volovlek said. “I didn’t have a bunch of money in a bank account. I didn’t have a bunch of proof of funds, things like that.
“I mean, I was a kid that was in a messed-up accident who basically had this business fall in his lap. I didn’t know how to do things by the book, so when it came down to proof of funds, where did your money come from, they basically just looked at me like: you’re just a drug dealer.”
He began looking for a licensed company to take on his brand. More than one company made offers. He chose Pincanna because it was formed, in part, by a group of medical marijuana caregivers who had patients and shared “the same morals,” based on healing over profits, Volovlek said.
Two “master growers” who helped start Pincanna knew of Volovlek. They knew his rub was popular and it worked.
“We are primarily adult use, recreational, but we still take a medical approach to the way that we look at things,” said Rob Nusbaum, one of the Pincanna founders. “Our main goal out here is to help people … and Vince is exactly the same so it was a real good match.
“He’s a creative guy with a lot of great ideas that usually work.”
Nusbaum said the rub Volovlek created is now sold in nearly 120 stores statewide, a number that continues to grow.
Michigan Organic Rub has expanded its product line to include lip balms, CBD versions of the THC rubs and vegan-based THC and coconut oil capsules are coming soon, but the rub is still the “bread and butter,” Volovlek said.
The product line has six different varieties of herbal essences chosen for various healing properties. The lemon blend is recommended for psoriasis and skin issues. The blue-labeled cooling rub is marketed for muscle and nerve pain.
To date, the company has sold more than 100,000 jars of lotions that retail at about $50 per 625 mg container, based on online pricing.
While there are some who enter the marijuana industry hoping to strike fast by creating and selling a brand or business, Volovlek has no plans of retiring any time soon.
“This is my baby, so there’s no way,” he said. “There’s no way I’m walking away from this. I’ve got to see it through. This has just consumed me. Since my accident, this is basically all I think about.”
Volovlek, a single man who describes himself as a “cosmetic chemist” on his Facebook profile, moved from Grand Haven to a house in Bridgeport. It significantly shortened his commute to Pinconning.
As he recalls the accident, the recovery, the trials and tribulations of starting a successful business, Volovlek thinks of another aspect of his journey that he’s grateful for.
About a year after the accident, he learned his father had stage-four pancreatic cancer. He would die two years later.
“Obviously, the accident happened, this brand came out of it, that’s wonderful,” Volovlek says. “But the fact that I was able to spend those last couple years with my dad, that would not have happened if I went out West.
“So it’s funny. Things happen for a reason.”
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