How Private Companies are Removing Barriers in the Medical Marijuana Industry
I’m going to put this bluntly, but one shouldn’t shield the truth: American health is in decline. Chronic pain, depression and anxiety, diabetes, and heart disease are all on the rise. The opioid epidemic rages on. And something that just recently came to my attention is that the World Health Organization has estimated that rates of dementia will nearly triple by 2050 . At the same time, the average American is working more than 40 hours a week, meaning that they have less time to socialize, care for their homes, or monitor what is truly most important: personal health and wellness. In order for medical professionals to sufficiently take care of the needs of American patients, it is critical that as a society, we seek sustainable solutions for the ailments that jeopardize our way of life.
Fortunately, Americans across the country are opening their eyes to the fact that medical marijuana (MMJ) can provide the treatments or solutions that so many are searching for. According to a Gallup Poll data released in October 2018, 2 in 3 Americans are currently in support of national cannabis legalization. What we need to do now is ensure that cannabis proponents, private companies, and supporting institutions work together to make this vision a reality for so many in need.
In this article, I am going to walk you through a brief history of the medical marijuana market and then highlight three of the private companies who have worked to further medical marijuana through legitimization of the MMJ market and reduction of barriers to MMJ patients.
Background on Medical Marijuana
The evolution of the American medical marijuana market has been non-linear… you might even say “helter skelter”. While new MMJ markets in midwestern and northeastern states are currently being crafted in accordance with recently written, voter-driven marijuana laws, other, earlier MMJ models sprung up in the 1990s and 2000s out of sheer public need and the absence of clear medical marijuana regulations by the government. The medical marijuana market first started to take shape in the 1990s and grew into a disjointed network of non-profit dispensaries. Here, individual medical marijuana patients could provide excess cannabis flower or products to the dispensary to then sell to other members. While the early dispensary models worked well for patients in smaller or more tight-knit communities, the “co-op” model was difficult to scale to the needs of the growing number of medical marijuana patients.
The MMJ market has slowly formalized over time, in conjunction with increased government oversight and the onset of the legal recreational market. In their 2018 report about the state of the medical marijuana market, Americans for Safe Access highlighted that 46 states now have some sort of medical marijuana program for approved patients: 30 states have permitted all forms of medical marijuana, another 16 permit the medical use of cannabidiol (CBD), and so only 4 states have no medical cannabis program whatsoever (South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Idaho). While the majority of US States now allow access to medical marijuana to approved patients, the landscape can be difficult for patients to navigate, particularly due to the frequency of legislation changes as well as the patchwork of state-specific medical marijuana regulations. The complexity of the medical cannabis market unfortunately leads to many obstacles for medical cannabis patients who just need improved information about how to comply within the law as well as increased access to the plant. In their 2018 report, Americans for Safe Access scored all US states on their medical cannabis programs. Not one state among them was awarded an “A” for their medical marijuana program, highlighting that there is still work to be done to get medical marijuana patients the proper access to cannabis.
If you are not sure what the laws are in your state, do not beat yourself up - reading and understanding evolving and intricate legislation is not intuitive. However, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) maintains a handy, electronic guide that will walk you through the medical and recreational laws in your state.
You might be asking yourself: With so much complexity in the law, and many obstacles to accessing and learning about medical marijuana, how are patients supposed to know how to proceed? Also, in an industry where mis-information is common, how is anyone supposed to know who to trust?
Fortuitously, there are some private companies in the marketplace working to legitimize the use of cannabis within medical dispensaries and also helping to remove the barriers between compassionate care professionals and medical marijuana patients.
Cannabis Medical Network: Bringing Cannabis Education to Medical Clinics
I first learned about Cannabis Medical Network (CMN) at Seattle CannaCon in January 2019. I visited their booth to learn more about their company, particularly since I, too, am focused on sharing the message about wellness through cannabis. I was able to to connect with Kim Sarubbi, CEO of CMN, and she took the time to share their mission to help further the plight of medical cannabis.
Curating and Creating Cannabis Content
Cannabis Medical Network (CMN) is a digital signage company that creates quality educational content about the cannabis plant and then installs TVs streaming this content in participating doctors offices and pain management clinics. Their service ultimately serves three core groups, including compassionate caregivers, the recipients of care, and finally the cannabis companies who are developing the cannabis-derived products themselves. The purpose of CMN’s offering is to incorporating the discussion of cannabis into the medical setting and also reduce mis-information about medical marijuana. It’s all about building the trust of doctors and patients about the efficacy of cannabis, and through CMN’s content, patients can start to see the elevation of medical cannabis into the contemporary healthcare system and trust that medical marijuana programs are here to stay.
CMN’s service is beneficial to doctors who recommend cannabis to patients for a number of reasons. Despite the recent expansion of the medical marijuana market across the country, many doctors are not familiar with cannabis and therefore not yet equipped to provide strain, terpene, or dosage recommendations to their patients. While many doctors research cannabis and the associated benefits on their own, it is well known that doctors do not have ample free time with which to research and maintain their practice as well as day-to-day patient services. Additionally, only 13% of doctors are trained on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in medical school, meaning that most doctors do not have any formal training on how cannabinoids (both internal and external) interact within the associated cannabinoid neurotransmitters in our brain nor how a lack of cannabinoids can harm their patients.
This is where CMN’s service comes in. Rather than having to self-source research studies and articles that detail the scientific benefits of cannabis, participating doctors are able to stay current on cannabis research by simply visiting their office waiting area! Also, the presence of cannabis educational content in the clinic waiting room also improves the efficacy of the actual doctor’s visit itself; when a patient is more informed on whether or not cannabis may be an option for treating their ailment, the doctor and patient are able to start discussing this potential solution earlier in the appointment than if the patient hadn’t already considered the possibility of turning to medical marijuana. I do also want to point out that the content does not wrongfully suggest that cannabis will be able to cure any ailment that may be plaguing a patient; rather, it simply highlights the conditions that can be treated by medical marijuana and then suggests that the patient speak directly with their doctor for more guidance. This way, doctors have the final say as to the recommended treatment plan for the patient - with the patient’s buy-in, of course.
The cannabis educational content produced by CMN is also beneficial to medical marijuana patients, as well. Even in the context of cannabis becoming recreationally legal across certain states, CMN’s content for doctors offices and clinics continues to evangelize cannabis as medicine. This is important because patients are more likely to trust that a doctor’s recommendation to try cannabis if they have already normalized the conceptualization of cannabis as medicine and a legitimate part of the modern healthcare model. Additionally, medical marijuana patients can trust the educational content produced by CMN because the company partners with a board of doctors to review the content before it is released. Finally, to ensure that curated content provides actual value to real patients, CMN has partnered with 3rd party companies such as Nielson to ensure that patients who viewed content considered it to be both entertaining and educational.
There is also a component to CMN’s programming that is all about normalizing cannabis into one’s lifestyle. For patients who may have had limited exposure to cannabis, or haven’t smoked for decades and therefore aren’t familiar with the highly potent strains that we have access to today, there is a need to highlight that cannabis is quickly becoming an accepted medicine that can be incorporated into daily routines, cooking, and beauty regimen at no risk to the user (within state laws). Toward this end, CMN produces content that walks users through how to cook with cannabis, complete with a guide to how to measure and appropriately dose their creations. Assistance with dosing may seem like a minor aspect of education, but from personal experience of calculating and recalculating how many milligrams of THC I have baked into cannabis treats, I can tell you that having clear recipes available to new marijuana patients can be the difference between a fun and approachable task and a frustrating evening filled with calculators, anxiety, and crumpled paper.
Education on the myriad of ways that an individual consumer can consume or use cannabis is an absolutely must if cannabis is going to become more of an accepted form of healthcare. For decades, cannabis has been depicted on TV and film as a drug that is only smoked, so those who have no interest in smoking may not actually know that cannabis can be enjoyed through many different methods. While I smoke weed, I understand that a lot people are averse to smoking for fear of damaging their respiratory system. The reality is that a pot brownie seems more benign than a blunt, even in 2019.
Another way that CMN works to educate the “canna-curious” patient is to post educational content online on their website, both in the form of blog posts and videos. I recommend checking out their website for the helpful content on the medical marijuana industry as well as educational content on the plant itself. There are some beneficial videos about how to use cannabis to support your overall beauty regimen. I really enjoyed this article that discusses the potential to use cannabis for hair revitalization. You can bet I am going to try this soon!
Strong Personal Ties to Cannabis
Through their work, the Cannabis Medical Network has been able to satisfy clients, patients, advertisers, and advertisers alike, all by reducing the system barriers that make medical marijuana access difficult. While the business model is a strong one, the people behind CMN are not just in it for the profit - they have personal reasons to promote cannabis, as well.
The former CEO of CMN, Phil Cohen, has been producing content for digital signage for over 25 years and has produced content under affiliated companies for women’s health and veterinary offices. But Phil is particularly passionate about supporting the medical marijuana market because he is a veteran of the Vietnam War; as such, he has a desire to help other vets who may be struggling with chronic pain, PTSD, or other related ailments that can be related to national service. Honorably, Phil wants to make sure than when his comrades go to the VA for help to managing physical or mental issues, they are provided ample access to the cannabis plant which can improve the quality of life for thousands of American veterans.
Kim Sarubbi, current CEO of CMN, sees cannabis as a promising potential anecdote to the opioid crisis, a national public health crisis that demands action now. Like so many others in this country, Kim has unfortunately suffered family loss due to this epidemic. Tragically, her sister-in-law lost her life after suffering from an opioid addiction after having been described pain-killers post-childbirth. Kim knows that throughout ongoing cannabis education, her and her team have the opportunity to educate many other struggling patients on the pain relief that can be achieved through cannabis in an effort to reduce patient dependence on opioids. For more information on how cannabis can help to counter the opioid epidemic, see my previous blog post on the topic here.
To learn more about CMN, or if you’d like to contact them to set up a potential partnership, visit their website at www.cmnhi.com.
HelloMD: Providing Open-Source Information and Doctor Consultations
HelloMD is another company that has developed a digital platform through which they are furthering cannabis education and improved cannabis access to medical marijuana patients. HelloMD is both a website and an app through which patients can have face-to-face virtual consultations with a doctor to discuss which cannabis solutions would be most appropriate for them. This provides patients access to doctors who they know are going to be well-versed in the benefits of cannabis without having to leave the comforts of home, something that can be particularly important for patients who struggle with disability and have limited forms of transportation. This also saves patients time researching and locating a doctor that is knowledgeable about cannabis and open to discussing it with patients. As of right now, the HelloMD service that connects patients with doctors starts at $29 and requires that patients have a device with a video camera and a microphone. While the service is not free to patients, consider that one valuable discussion with a cannabis-oriented professional could save a patient hours of research on cannabis-friendly providers as well as the need to travel to a clinic.
If cost is a hurdle, patients also have the option to post a question on HelloMD’s open-source network. For those of you who are familiar, the HelloMD platform is not unlike Quora: essentially, patients from anywhere can post a medical question related to marijuana and obtain answers directly from HelloMD doctors and staff. Answers are typically provided within 24 hours and there is no charge to post a question. Questions and answers are also made publicly available to other patients and readers, allowing all users to learn from prior question and answer exchanges.
Similar to Cannabis Medical Network, the HelloMD website features a lot of blog and video content on cannabis and how patients and recreational users alike can incorporate the plant into their life. For more information on HelloMD, check out their website here.
Eaze: Delivering Medical Cannabis to Patient’s Doorsteps
Eaze, headquartered in San Francisco, is a cannabis delivery service that serves the majority of the United States. This company is helping to reduce barriers to medical marijuana patients by delivering the cannabis they need directly to their doorsteps. For medical marijuana patients who suffer from disabilities impacting their mobility, this can be the difference between relief or continued pain. While Eaze is only licensed to deliver products containing THC in the state of California, they are able to ship CBD based products to the majority of US states. Eaze is said to be one of the leaders among the group of companies expanding into the cannabis technology space as they have adapted and scaled in a way that has allowed them to remain a favorite across California.
And Eaze understands the importance in their role in the supply chain of the medical cannabis process. In a 2018 press release, Eaze quoted their Director of Social Impact, Jennifer Lujan, saying "I've seen firsthand that support for marijuana is an act of compassion. As this industry is being built and growing - it's important that the business community think about what they are doing to help patients, remove barriers, provide jobs and how this plant helps people”. Actually, Lujan has also started a non-profit program, Weed For Good, that works with other non-profits, charitable organizations, and the cannabis industry to provide free medical marijuana to low-income or terminal patients. It’s clear that, along with a knack for innovation and driving profitable growth, Eaze also demonstrates a commitment to serving the medical marijuana community.
Unfortunately, Eaze isn’t able to ship to all US states, including the Pacific Northwest. Although Washington and Oregon have both legalized medical and recreational marijuana, cannabis delivery services have not yet been legalized in either state. However, there have been reports of companies filing this delivery service gap without licensing for years, so I’m sure that once the delivery restrictions are lifted, there will be companies ready to pounce on the opportunity.
Driving Further MMJ Innovation
Medical marijuana will soon be moving into its third decade in operation, but it isn’t done evolving yet; in 2016, the medical marijuana industry was estimated to be valued at USD $7.06 billion (USD) in 2016 and is expected to grow to USD $100.03 billion (USD) by 2025. Due to reported sales growth in states with legal recreational or medical markets, a changing American demographic, and the support of famous proponents like Sanjay Gupta, Martha Stewart, Bill Maher (and many others), all signs point to the fact that medical marijuana is going to grow into a permanent fixture in the American healthcare system. But, there is an opportunity for cannabis proponents and the public at large to ensure that as the medical marijuana market expands, laws and regulations are put in place to prioritize the health and wellbeing of medical marijuana patients.
Thanks to the work of organizations advocating for MMJ patient access, such as Americans for Safe Access, it is clear that even as new medical marijuana regulations are being encoded into law, there is a lot of opportunity when it comes to properly serving medical marijuana patients.
It is going to be imperative that private companies continue to innovate to solve the gaps that exist in current legislation that reduce the efficacy of MMJ programs for users. Cannabis proponents, and the public at large, will need to support these private companies that are working to legitimize cannabis as healthcare. The work of these companies, if successful, will have a broader reach beyond just the patients, doctors, and other cannabis business that are benefiting from a reduction of obstacles, but can leave a lasting impact on the future of American health. With the 2020 election looming, it’s also important that we vote for candidates who include improved cannabis legislation as part of their platform.
Fortunately, we will soon have additional data about how cannabis can help to cure the ailments of a North American population as a result of Canada’s recent national cannabis legalization. This means that American cannabis proponents will soon have more ammunition, in the form of statistics and case studies, when fighting for the rights of medical marijuana patients and working to reduce the access barriers that still exist in the marketplace.
Of course, circumventing 100+ years of prohibition and misleading propaganda around cannabis cannot be undone without significant and sustained herculean effort. But, for the sake of the wellbeing and future of the American healthcare system, it’s important that all of us - cannabis advocates, cannabis businesses, and allied government institutions - work together to ensure that throughout the transition, the patients who require access to this medicine are able to maintain it. This is our moral imperative.