When Compassion Equals a Pilot Program

Despite a credible amount of hard research and anecdotal evidence from patients, on Friday, January 29, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration announced that it will not expand the list of qualifying conditions for the state’s struggling medical cannabis program.

Proposed Conditions

Illinois’ Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had recommended that eight conditions be added to those that qualify for legal medical cannabis, including autism, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, osteoarthritis, and several pain-related conditions. It responded to the governor’s negative decision by issuing a statement that labeled it “a gross injustice to patients.”

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Chairperson of the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple, said in response to the announcement from the state:

“I’m deeply disappointed. But I’m not surprised. The governor’s office hasn’t shown much support for this pilot program, and it shows in this blanket rejection again.”

Journalists and the mainstream media continue to cite the number of states in the U.S. where medical cannabis programs exist—regardless of how stimied or ineffective they may be.

The Land of Lincoln is to be praised for things like the fact that, at 39, it covers more conditions than any other state, and that it includes ailments typically neglected in state laws, even in many progressive states, such as Tourette’s Syndrome and dystonia.

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Illinois governor Bruce Rauner

There are currently about 23 dispensaries operating in Illinois, with another dozen slated to open by March.  While the pool of retail outlets for safe access continues to grow, with literally hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in cultivation and processing facilities and dispensaries, cannabis business owners in Illinois are complaining that there are too few patients to sustain the business of the current number of outlets, let alone a growing network of revenue-hungry retail stores that require a sufficient number of daily customers to stay in business.

Many desperate patients are probably thankful that the state has any program whatsoever. However, the forces that govern Illinois have the relatively open goal of dismantling the program, regardless of its effectiveness or the number of patients that it either does, or could, assist.

According to Debra Borchardt, when writing for Forbes:

“The clock is ticking for the Illinois medical marijuana program. A low number of approved patients could force some marijuana businesses to close just as the program is getting underway.”

The Problems

The greatest problem obviously lies in the state’s opposition to its own law. Republican Governor Rauner openly opposes anything cannabis. Officially, his state’s medical pot program is a grand experiment conducted at the expense of sick patients who, finally granted legal, safe access to medical cannabis in the state, may very likely lose that access in the near future.

This is despite the overwhelming approval of medical cannabis among the citizens of the state. Sixty-nine percent of voters support expansion of the program, while 73 percent believe that the benefits of medical cannabis outweigh the risks.

Too Few Participants?

The proof of this opposition? This isn’t the Rauner administration’s first oppositional move toward the state’s medical cannabis program. A year ago, the highly contested governor punted on expanding the list of qualifying conditions, which then included neuropathy, a condition that afflicts millions of patients.

Also, despite the fact that the state covers more conditions than any other, it has admitted only 4,400 patients to the program as of the end of 2015 (more than 29,000 had begun the application process at that time). This is despite predictions from regulators that the pilot program will include “tens of thousands” of patients by the end of its four-year run.

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Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple, Chairperson of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board

In its defense, the Illinois program began accepting applications only as recently as September 2015. The stark reality of the situation, however, is that businesses have already begun to complain that the program, from a business perspective, is generating too small a volume of business to sustain.

This is making many in the medical cannabis industry who have invested in Illinois, from venture capitalists to dispensary managers to those providing security for the transport of money and flowers, nervous that the program may collapse under the neglect and mismanagement of the state.

Said a dispensary operator in Chicago, Joseph Friedman:

“If this is the trend, with one to three patients a day, we’ll go out of business.”

Owners and investors in cultivation facilities and other medical cannabis businesses in the state say they require 20,000 to 30,000 customers—all within the next six to 12 months—to stabilize the market and allow them to sustain their businesses.

At the current pace of roughly 1,100 new patients per month, those managing the state’s program will need to increase their acceptance rate for applications, possibly being less strict in their approval of prospective patients. Business owners claim that “unnecessarily tight restrictions” are either dissuading patients from submitting an application or preventing them from being accepted if they do.

More Inclusive Approach Needed

Allowing more patients to enter the program would obviously be good for not only the patients themselves, but also the businesses that have invested heavily in the emerging medical cannabis infrastructure of the state.

While most of these business entities are acutely aware of the relatively high risk of entering a business segment that is illegal at the federal level, they also may not have anticipated a state government that would so cavalierly subvert the will of its own citizens, especially that most frail slice of society that is comprised of very ill children and seniors.

Dispensary owners are stressing that, unless the state begins approving patients at a more rapid rate, the result will be a growing number of dispensaries fighting over a relatively small population of patients—and patient dollars. “As they open, we’re going to be sharing a finite number of patients because it’s not growing the way anyone expected,” said Friedman.

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A dispensary in Illinois

Put simply, the industrial-scale cultivation and processing facilities within the state are owned and operated by for-profit businesses that, if they don’t get enough foot traffic through the doors of dispensary outlets to move their product, won’t be able to justify or sustain a viable business. The result of this could be investors that pull out before incurring losses or businesses that choose to focus on more lucrative or dependable states, like California, Oregon, and Washington.

It could be argued that conservative forces within Illinois are practicing obstructionism, purposefully dragging their heels and even blatantly opposing the success of the state’s program that, in the end, is intended to provide sick patients, with conditions like cancer and dystonia, with access to laboratory tested, high-quality cannabis medicine.

Commercial concerns within the state that invested hundreds of millions of dollars into their businesses are justifiably concerned that the state may allow its medical cannabis program to atrophy and literally die on the vine.

Feel the Pain

Keen readers will note how four of the eight conditions recently rejected by the Governor relate to pain. One of the chief goals of adding these conditions to those covered in the state was an effort to deal with the opiate epidemic that is sweeping the nation.

Temple, of the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, in an interview with WTTW, a Chicago PBS affiliate, stressed that pain is difficult to treat and that many conventional pharmaceutical drugs are bad in two ways: 1) They aren’t an effective analgesic (pain killer), especially over time, and 2) They are highly addictive.

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A nice, plump outdoor, backyard plant in Toronto, Ontario (circa 2008)

“If we look at the number of narcotic pain killer deaths that have occurred in this country, we are facing an epidemic of people dying from overdoses because their pain isn’t adequately managed,” said Temple.

The sometimes outspoken doctor explained how patients using opioids and narcotics can slip into respiratory depression and literally die, something that happens all too commonly. “We’re seeing more of that mortality grow,” said Temple. She explained how states that have adopted comprehensive medical cannabis laws are experiencing 25 percent fewer opiate overdoses.

In the end, the Illinois program could be terminated as early as 2017 by nothing more than swipe of the pen from conservative governor Rauner. Instead of incurring the political backlash and wrath of angry patients and progressives, the current administration may be trying to subtly sabotage the program through long-term mismanagement and a deprivation of resources.

If Illinois conservatives and Rauner can point toward slumping numbers, they may try to defeat the program by claiming it is unpopular or even unnecessary. While nothing is certain, the next 12-24 months will prove stressful for the state’s qualifying patients, caretakers, and legalization advocates, all of whom will live in fear that patient access to laboratory tested, high-quality medicine may soon be a thing of the past.

Illinois Qualifying Conditions

The state of Illinois currently allows the following 39 conditions (although it is being extremely picky about those it allows into the program):

  1. Cancer
  2. Glaucoma
  3. HIV/AIDS
  4. Hepatitis C
  5. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  6. Crohn’s disease
  7. Alzheimer disease
  8. Cachexia/wasting syndrome
  9. Muscular dystrophy
  10. Severe fibromyalgia
  11. Spinal cord disease (including, but not limited to, arachnoiditis)
  12. Tarlov cysts
  13. Hydromyelia
  14. Syringomyelia
  15. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  16. Fibrous Dysplasia
  17. Spinal cord injury
  18. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-concussion syndrome
  19. Multiple Sclerosis
  20. Arnold-Chiari malformation and Syringomelia
  21. Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA)
  22. Parkinson’s disease
  23. Tourette’s syndrome
  24. Myoclonus
  25. Dystonia
  26. Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
  27. RSD (Complex Regional Pain Syndromes Type I)
  28. Causalgia
  29. CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndromes Type II)
  30. Neurofibromatosis
  31. Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy
  32. Sjogren’s syndrome
  33. Lupus
  34. Interstitial Cystitis
  35. Myasthenia Gravis
  36. Hydrocephalus
  37. Nail-patella syndrome
  38. Residual limb pain
  39. Seizures (including those characteristic of epilepsy)

Gooey Rabinski is a technical writer and instructional designer who has contributed feature articles to magazines such as High Times, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis HBK11RenderHealth Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle, and a contributing writer at Whaxy.com.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Value the Budtenders

As a lifelong resident of a prohibitionist state who recently moved to yet another prohibitionist state (brilliant, I know…), I can attest to the value of budtenders.

These empathetic professionals who help patients and adult users select just the right strain of cannabis—in the correct form—are the backbone of a loosely knit international network of thousands of dispensaries throughout North America.

The face of any dispensary is its staff of friendly budtenders, all of whom provide safe access to high-quality herbal medicine and the advice and direction to best consume it. Some budtenders take a holistic approach and advocate cannabis therapy that may involve diet, exercise, meditation, organic food sources, and possibly even yoga.

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Proper advocacy and mentoring involves compassionate, science-based advice that’s available to patients who intelligently eschew the black market and seek safe access to regulated, laboratory-tested cannabis medicine from reputable dispensaries and retail stores.

Budtenders: Educating Patients

Those who follow the cannabis culture on social media may have taken note of dispensary companies and other organizations that sometimes host budtender appreciation events in progressive legal cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, and Denver. Budtenders and other cannabis industry employees are honored by patients, customers, and owners who show their thanks for the important, albeit critical, role played by these hard working retail employees.

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More than 80 years of Reefer Madness (a campaign that began well before the August 1937 debut of U.S. federal prohibition) has created a culture of purposeful misinformation and disinformation in North America and throughout the world. Urban legends and misperceptions abound in terms of cannabis as medicine. Along with abortion and climate change, medicinal cannabis is one of the most controversial and hotly debated topics of the 21st century.

Teaching Patients & Voters

Budtenders are at the forefront of educating patients and adult use consumers, not simply selling flowers and concentrates. They help to abolish the stigma and ignorance that pervades modern society, especially among those actually willing to walk into a dispensary—many of whom are very sick single parents, retirees, teachers, local business owners, and retail employees.

Disinformation: noun dis·in·for·ma·tion: False information that is given to people in order to make them believe something or to hide the truth.

Those who wish to see full cannabis legalization and abundant safe access in their state or province must strive to alleviate the ignorance of society when it comes to this herb. The gains that have been made in this movement-cum-industry have emerged primarily from ballot initiatives involving regular citizens visiting the voting booth and saying yes to medical or adult use of cannabis.

Such voter behavior is the result of knowledge, and it doesn’t precipitate out of thin air. It is sought. Or shared. But someone has to get gutsy. Someone has to have the courage to defy the stereotypes and risk exposure to request—or preach—valuable, life-changing information.

When it comes to cannabis, this education is typically obtained or preached informally, from friends, family members, anonymously via sites like NORMLWhaxy, and Green Flower Media, and from budtenders—whether they are on the job or not.

When a state ballot initiative is passed, we know that myths have been shattered and stigma has been crushed—at least among those brave souls who voted in favor of such legislation. These are citizens who have come to see beyond the decades of propaganda and lies to realize that the cannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis are real medicine for body, mind, and spirit and truly improve communities, including economically.

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Research studies and anecdotal evidence from patients, their physicians, and caretakers has convinced millions of Americans and Canadians that cannabis is real medicine. They now understand that it is not physically addictive and that it lacks the danger and risk of opiate drugs for the vast majority of patients.

Voter behavior is influenced by solid information and enlightenment. Victory for the cannabis movement lies in, basically, voters recognizing science over scare tactics and believing research more than rumors. A simple dynamic, right?

Not Simple

But it’s not simple. Voters in several states will consider adult use laws in 2016. What percentage of them could use the advice of a seasoned budtender or cannabis advocate? How many desire to control their pain, depression, PTSD, or simple anxiety, but have no clue that the proper strain of cannabis—at the right dose and via the best consumption avenue—is capable of replacing their addictive pharmaceutical drugs?

How many know that the negative side effects of these drugs can be decreased or even eliminated by natural cannabis medicine?

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Educating voters doesn’t end with teaching them enough to vote with intelligence and compassion on state-wide ballot issues. Hundreds of municipalities and counties throughout legal states like California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado have banned sales of cannabis in their communities (they can’t ban cannabis possession and consumption because it would defy state law—but many would if possible).

Would They?

If city council members, county commissioners, and those citizens who are easily swayed by fear mongering and the deception of 21st century prohibitionists like Ted Cruz and and Chris Christie had only a very basic knowledge of cannabis (and its history), would they continue to ban sales of the herb in their communities?

Would they continue to deny their municipal coffers and schools the tax revenues being enjoyed by more progressive communities? Would they continue to refuse to improve their local economies with both permanent jobs, as well as ancillary services, like what is being experienced in Seattle and Denver?

Is the current controversy over something as simple as the medical efficacy of a plant merely the result of ignorance?

Is this literally just one big misunderstanding?

Both cannabis patients and lifestyle consumers should leverage the powerful and typically free resource found in their favorite budtenders. The daily exposure of budtenders to patients with a wide variety of conditions, from all age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds, ensures their familiarity with most patient needs (even if one is simply suffering a bit too much anxiety and needs a nice indica).

This knowledge should then be spread throughout the community, with powerful conversations, blogs, lectures, seminars, and Meetup groups.

“The savvy and educated consumer needs more than just products. They require knowledgeable employees. They need additional information, resources, and support to truly empower them in utilizing cannabis to self-manage their holistic wellness.”  — Miz D, cannabis industry consultant and consumer advocate, Vancouver, Canada

Having trouble sleeping? Tired of dealing with the negative side effects of pharmaceutical pain killers? For those who live in areas that allow legal access to cannabis medicine, the best solution is speaking with an experienced budtender.

Photo credit: Sensi Magazine


All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003-2017 Gooey Rabinski. All Rights Reserved.

Gooey Rabinski is a technical writer, photographer, and compliance documentation specialist for cannabis businesses who has contributed feature articles to magazines and media outlets such as High Times, CannaBiz Journal, MERRY JANEEmerald Magazine, Grow Magazine, Herb.coThe KindSkunk, Cannabis Culture, WhaxyHeads, Weed World, Green Flower MediaCannabis HBK11RenderHealth Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself.

He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle.

His cannabis-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

How Many States Will Legalize Pot in 2016?

[Updated October 12, 2016]

What began as a pool of roughly 11 states that would potentially allow their citizens to decide if they wanted adult use cannabis legalization on their home turf has dwindled to only five.

The cannabis legalization movement in 2016 is providing both patients and recreational consumers with more pot freedom than they have enjoyed since…well, since cannabis was first outlawed on the federal level in August of 1937.

In other words, than since ever.

The trick? It all depends on where one lives.

Leveraging Momentum

In an attempt to leverage the momentum and political capital generated by current cannabis legalization in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, and the District of Columbia, many states have bills or ballot issues pending that, if passed, will allow their adult citizens (21 or older) to legally possess and consume cannabis without medical necessity—sometimes via dispensary networks.

Five U.S. states will consider adult use (“recreational”) cannabis legalization this fall, including California (Prop 64), Arizona (Prop 205), Maine (Question 1), Massachusetts (Question 4), and Nevada (Question 2).

Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota will offer their voters medical laws. Ohio and Pennsylvania, via their state legislatures (not a popular vote), introduced medical cannabis laws in the first half of 2016.

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In California, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) is expected to win the majority of votes (current polling suggests that 60% of California’s voters are in favor of the controversial proposition). The Golden State is already a billion dollar market for medical cannabis—let alone the grey and black markets that exist in the nation’s most populated state.

Most significantly: The addition of Cali to the list of adult use states will add nearly 40 million Americans to those who can legally indulge in the kind herb.

In one fell swoop, more than 12 percent of the nation would suddenly have the legal right to possess, consume, and probably cultivate cannabis.

When one considers that Colorado has only 5.5 million residents, Oregon sports a mere four million, Washington is home to 7.2 citizens, and Alaska has only 740,000 legal inhabitants, California’s population stats begin to take on significance.

If the state legalizes recreational cannabis in November—something that is  likely to occur—it will, overnight, create the world’s largest legal recreational market for cannabis.

Lured to Legitimacy

Many cannabis breeders, cultivators, and resellers operating on the black and grey markets will be lured into legitimacy. There’s significant value and health benefits in not having to look over one’s shoulder for the five-oh or wonder if black helicopters will land on your farm.

No risk of legal penalties, at least from authorities in California (the feds are a different story) will be very appealing to tens of thousands of people currently making a living from the recreational cannabis market in California.

This isn’t meant to diminish the positive influence of pioneering states like Colorado and Washington. For very sick patients and those who embrace cannabis as a lifestyle, these states are currently among the best places in the nation to reside or do business. They not only embrace the cannabis culture, they help define it.

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California and Washington, D.C. are typically at odds, both culturally and economically. California is home to Hollywood, Silicon Valley, SpaceX, Apple, Tesla Motors, Pixar, Oracle…you get the idea. The state holds sway, even among those groups and interests that are opposed to its culture of progressive liberalism.

How are we, as individuals, positioning ourselves for the inevitability of forthcoming legalization?

Yes, existing legal states are doing amazing things, nurturing a culture of healthy open-market, yet regulated, competition among cannabis businesses. For patients and consumers, this means lower prices, higher quality, and immensely better selection. With some startups basing their entire business model on something as specific as infused coffee or medical baked goods, legal states are certainly doing something right.

Even Alaska and Colorado are considering legalizing cannabis smoking lounges and social gathering places. Drinkers have bars, after all.

There are also plenty of problems inherent in the few existing state models, however.

Tax rates are excessive (Washington State charges 37% in sales tax) and restrictions and red tape are often unfair and not endured by those in similar industries, such as pharmaceuticals and alcohol.

Retail bans in dozens of communities in states like Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have limited safe access by both lifestyle consumers and patients alike.

When, Not If

California legalizing recreational cannabis is a matter of when, not if—and it will most likely occur on November 8. Unfortunately, many other “influence states” with large populations aren’t as excited about legalization as California. Texas, the second most populated state in the nation at 27 million*, likely won’t legalize cannabis for many years.

New York has 20 million* inhabitants and is basically tied with Florida for third most populous state in the country. The Empire State has already proven its Luddite nature by implementing one of the most short-sighted and restrictive state medical programs in the nation (it allows no smoking whatsoever).

Some critics have deemed it designed to fail, while others have simply called it lacking compassion and even mean spirited in the number of seriously ill patients that it excludes from eligibility.

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Meanwhile, Florida’s conservative politics and widespread corruption promise to make it one of the last states to implement a real medical program or to even consider recreational legalization. In fact, states like Florida, Texas, and New York will probably jump on the adult use cannabis bandwagon if and when it is legalized at the federal level—not through their own efforts.

What will happen in your state in 2016—and how will you be a part of it?

In the few states where cannabis is already legal for lifestyle enhancement, opportunities for solopreneurs and entrepreneurs are ample and economies are booming.

First: Get It Legal

For those who wish to own or manage a dispensary or cultivation facility or start a web 3.0 business focused on cannabis and its millions of fans, the first move will be working with national, D.C.-based nonprofit groups like Marijuana Policy Project and NORML, while also partnering with new cannabis businesses to gain funding and marketing outreach.

After all, the culture war won’t be won with empty pockets. The prohibitionists have plenty of money and influence. Simply being “right” means little in our modern, corporate-driven society.

Elected representatives and business leaders alike shun science in an effort to play politics and maintain shareholder confidence—instead of educating those stakeholders in the objective realities of the situation.

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While the cannabis legalization movement has never been healthier, this is the time that conservative forces will bring out their big guns in terms of money, influence, and even celebrity pot bashing.

There is no true victory in this culture war until all patients in America enjoy safe access to properly cultivated, high-quality strains of cannabis medicine, including concentrates, edibles, and topicals.

Until this happens, no one who respects science or has an ounce of true compassion for other humans should sit back and declare a win—including those in legal states.

*Population stats sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau. 


All text and photos Copyright © 2003-2016 Gooey Rabinski. All Rights Reserved.

Gooey Rabinski is a technical writer, instructional designer, and photographer who has contributed feature articles to magazines such as High Times, MERRY JANE, Herb.coSKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis HBK11RenderHealth Journal, Green Thumb, Green Flower Media, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana and developed a series of 175 long-form educational articles for Whaxy.com.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.