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After the election of President Donald Trump last year, I have seen how strongly polarized we have become on nearly every issue out there. Healthcare, education, the environment, gun control, immigration.....the list goes on and on. But the one issue we all seem to agree on is the legalization of medical cannabis. It has, after all, received bi-partisan support in both the Senate and House in the South Carolina legislature (South Carolina Compassionate Care Act) as well as in Congress (CARERS Act).
A poll was posted last Friday, July 14th, at noon on the Facebook page for South Carolina Upstate Channel 4 News station, WYFF. The question: "Should medical Marijuana be legalized in South Carolina? By noon, just four days later, an astounding 6,300 people had responded. 5,700 gave the idea the "thumbs up" and 338 "hearted" the idea while a mere 269 individuals gave medical marijuana legalization in the Palmetto State the "thumbs down." The post also drew over 1,600 comments, mostly from supporters who are eager to see the South Carolina legislature pass the SC Compassionate Care Act (i.e., medical marijuana bill) next year.
Prior to that, a December 2016, poll conducted by Winthrop University found that 78% of South Carolinians believed that medical marijuana should be allowed when prescribed by a physician. The popularity of the notion that cannabis does indeed have medical benefits continues to grow in South Carolina, but many are afraid to admit their support.
I have personally worked on medical cannabis advocacy across the state for the past 3 1/2 years and, although many openly support the idea, I still come across those who do not wish to discuss the issue with friends, neighbors and co-workers. Of course I understand that everyone's perspective is different, but we are all protected under the 1st Amendment's Right to freedom of speech. Just because you support the use of medical cannabis by patients does not imply that you are doing anything wrong. And if you are using it now, illegally, talking about it still is not admission of wrongdoing. It's just not something I would encourage due to the illegality and unknown quality of products purchased from the black market.
So why is talking about medical cannabis so important? If we want to start braking down taboos, we have to start talking about cannabis in a positive and sensible way.
I tell my daughter's story everywhere I go. Doctor's appointments, school, the line at the grocery store...I want people to understand that cannabis isn't the evil weed we were told it was growing up. Cannabis helps save people lives. I was part of the "Just Say No to Drugs" generation. That is all we heard in school when I was a kid. And that pretty much worked for me. But what we are seeing now is that the war on drugs has been a miserable failure. People have been thrown in jail due to simple possession of even small amounts of marijuana. This is a crime that hurts no one yet lives are being ruined and those being incarcerated are mostly our black youth.
Activism across the board is becoming the norm as we are finally beginning to realize that the only way the "We the People" can get our politicians to do what we want is if we tell them. Yes....a novel idea, I know.
So how can you bring up your support of medical cannabis while preventing everyone from thinking you are some sort of "stoner"?
Here are a few tips:
1. Tell your story. If you make it personal, people will understand the commitment and passion you have for the issue. No one fights harder than those fighting for a sick child or ailing loved one.
2. Relate medical cannabis to other hot button issues. The opioid crisis, for example, is sweeping the nation. Nearly a hundred people overdose on opioids in this country every day. There is not a demographic that is not effected by this. Yet, in states where medical cannabis is legal, opioid overdose deaths have decreased an average of 25%, with even higher numbers the longer the programs have been enacted. That is a great statistic to carry around in your back pocket that you can pull out when the conversation comes up.
3. Talk about healthcare savings. Healthcare is another big topic floating around the work water coolers. With Obamacare repeal/revision being the number one focus in Congress right now, many are wondering what our healthcare system will look like when they get finished with it. One thing we know is that medical cannabis helps patients decrease their pharmaceutical drug dependency, thereby decreasing healthcare costs. This may become even more important with looming cuts to programs like Medicare and Medicaid. In a report published in July 2016, in a study which appears in Health Affairs, examined data from Medicare Part D from 2010 to 2013. It is the first study to examine whether legalization of marijuana changes doctors' clinical practice and whether it could curb public health costs. Medical marijuana saved Medicare about $165 million in 2013, the researchers concluded. They estimated that, if medical marijuana were available nationwide, Medicare Part D spending would have declined in the same year by about $470 million. That's about half a percent of the program's total expenditures.
4. Have an open mind when talking to your parents or other more senior adults. They might surprise you. Since many of us have been taught to "Just Say No to Drugs," there may be a feeling of wrong-doing, just by bringing up the topic of medical cannabis to our parents. But, the truth is, people age 55 and older is the fastest growing demographic for cannabis use. Many medical conditions are diseases of aging. And with our growing population, these diseases are becoming problematic for many. But patients are seeking alternatives pharmaceutical drug use due to the lack of efficacy and long term side effects. So, our parents and elders are becoming more and more interested in exploring medical cannabis as an alternative. In fact, once you start the conversation, they might actually teach you a thing or two.
5. Talking to church members. This is another group that we as advocates seem to tip toe around. But why? If people are religious/spiritual, shouldn't they also have compassion? References of cannabis are found throughout the Bible. God put this plant on the earth for us to use in many ways. Again, telling your story often works here, but coming armed with a bible verse or two to throw in never hurts. Try Genesis 1:12 - And the earth brought forth grass, [and] herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed [was] in itself, after his kind: and God saw that [it was] good.
6. Discussing medical cannabis advocacy with co-workers. Depending on your work environment, this may have unique challenges, but once again, you may be surprised. I have recently learned that one of the oldest and most conservative law firms in my area has become interested in medical cannabis and the potential need for varying legal services due to the complex legal issues surrounding legalization. It took one brave soul in their firm to bring up the topic. Once it was discussed, the firm saw the potential for growth and they are now assembling an entire team to start researching all the many facets of legal services. Once again, bringing up this taboo subject in the work place might surprise you.
In the end, the most important suggestion I can make to anyone thinking about coming out of the cannabis closet is that you have to own it. Don't apologize for your beliefs. You have the right to say what you believe. And by stating your belief that cannabis has medical value for many, you help knock down that stigma
So, be bold. Walk through the cannabis closet door and shut it behind you. There's no need to turn back. Own your beliefs and you will begin to see the world changing around you
Jill Swing is a mother of two who lives in Charleston and advocates for patients’ rights to legal access to medical cannabis. She is also the President and Founder of SC Compassionate Care Alliance and may be contacted at [email protected]
For more information about advocacy efforts for medical cannabis in South Carolina please visit http://www.sccompassion.com/