U.S. Pain believes people with chronic pain should have access to all safe, effective treatments, including medical cannabis. (You can read our full position statement on medical cannabis by visiting our medical cannabis advocacy page.)
With the help of our Co-Directors of Medicinal Cannabis, Ellen and Stu Smith, we have compiled resources to educate you on this valuable treatment option and how to advocate for it in your state.
Do you know where your state stands?
Presently, the following states offer medical cannabis programs. In many cases, however, medical cannabis is only permitted for certain types of conditions. (Common ones include cancer, glaucoma, PTSD, HIV/AIDS.) You can check the status of your state and which conditions qualify here.
District of Columbia
To learn more about U.S. Pain’s advocacy efforts, visit this page.
Information on applying or advocating for medical cannabis access
- Check the details of your state: http://norml.org/legal/medical-marijuana-2. This site lists qualifying conditions by state and where to find more info. Many states have programs, but you must have a certain condition to qualify. Unfortunately, the list of qualifying conditions can be VERY limited. (Common ones are cancer, glaucoma, PTSD, HIV/AIDS.)
- States differ in their application processes, but you typically are required to have a doctor’s note or medical record stating you have one of the listed conditions before you can apply. Talk to a trusted doctor about writing this note.
- Dispensaries are helpful and can give tips on the application process.
- NOTE: There is generally an out-of-pocket cost associated with being certified by a doctor and with registering with the state. Few if any insurers cover medical cannabis.
- Once you are certified, you will receive a medical cannabis card.
- Google your state or use http://norml.org/legal/medical-marijuana-2 and become familiar with where your state stands presently.
- Contact U.S. Pain Foundation’s advocacy team to let them know about your goal of starting or expanding a medical cannabis program and request their support. U.S. Pain can provide you with tips, resources, and other volunteers who can help.
Telling your story is key
- You will need to reach out to your state legislators who support a current bill, have supported a bill in the past, or seem like they might be willing to introduce a bill. You can research this on your state government’s website.
- You might send them an email, call them, and/or request a meeting to discuss. Contact information can be found on your state government’s website.
- If you are able to attend a meeting, be sure to dress like you are going to work, keep the language clean and show them that you are one more everyday person trying to live life with major medical difficulties. You do not want to be perceived as a recreational drug user.
- You will find that telling your story, sincerely and succinctly, is the key. Share information about your condition, how it affects your daily life and how using medical cannabis, in the past, has made a big difference or why you want to try it.
- Remember, if you are in an illegal state sharing your success with medical cannabis, you want to share the success you had while living or visiting a legal state. You do not want to take any chance getting arrested!
Tips on sharing your story
- If they want you to come testify in support of a bill, again, your demeanor matters – show them you are “their family, their neighbor, their friend” in need of safe pain relief. Be on your best behavior and educate them! Prepare your speech before your arrive.
- Find out the time limit
- Consider putting your main points on a card to talk from, instead of just reading it all for eye contact can really help!
- Stay on point – time is limited and you must respect this or they will shut you off to allow others their time slot
- State your name and address
- Share your medical condition and a description of this condition has on your daily living
- Share how medical cannabis has made life more tolerable than in the past
- Ask them to have a heart and help you and all the others in your state.
Advocate for the right wording
Along with sharing your story as to why this would help improve the quality of your life, you also need to discuss what the qualifying conditions are on the bill proposal. There is no way they will ever include listing every possible condition that causes pain. Therefore, it is very important to include the following in your bill:
” Severe, debilitating, chronic pain”
If you don’t get the wording in there for chronic pain, many will not ever qualify.
Other wording that may work well:
- “A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following:
- Cachexia or wasting syndrome
- Severe, debilitating, chronic pain
- Severe nausea
- Seizures, including but not limited to, those characteristic of epilepsy
- Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to, those characteristic of multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease
- Agitation related to Alzheimer’s Disease
- Finally, any other condition or its treatment approved by the [state name] Department of Health.”
Final note: Many legal states allow a process where you can submit a condition for consideration. Complete proper documentation and submit your condition … or try submitting the wording from Rhode Isand that covers many conditions
Other ways to advocate
- If you have no bill submitted at the present time, then your work will be a bit different. You need to look back and see if a bill had been submitted that never made it through and locate the name of that person. Again, you would want to contact that person or persons and tell them you are ready to advocate and ask what they need from you.
- Contact U.S. Pain Foundation’s advocacy team to request their support.
- Make it easy for your legislature by providing samples of other successful state laws already established across the country.
- Consider reviewing the wording used in Rhode Island’s bill. Lawmakers who crafted the legislation were clever and all-inclusive with the wording of the bill.
- Whether you have a bill submitted or are working to get one started, you want to keep the topic alive in the media, so write letters to the editor, send a written story to news stations and radio stations, telling them you would like to share your story and why you want to see this legalized. You will be surprised how they can respond!
Below is a list of scientific research pertaining to medical cannabis:
In Her Own Words: “Why I Turned to Medicinal Cannabis”
By Ellen Lenox Smith
My name is Ellen Lenox Smith, and I reside in North Scituate, Rhode Island. For my sixty-three years of life, I have endured negative reactions to medications. I also live with two incurable conditions, sarcoidosis and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, classical type.
From the moment my pediatrician first gave me medication, he told my mother that I seemed to be allergic to my own body. Whenever I needed medicine, including aspirin or Tylenol, I seemed to have issues with metabolizing. I just found a way to live through one negative reaction after another.
It was not until 2011, before having my twentieth surgery to stabilize my leg with cadaver tendons, that a surgeon suggested DNA drug sensitivity testing. His hospital in Wisconsin was at a loss as to help me cope with the surgical pain as well as the issues I suffered due to reactions from medications. Through a simple process of swabbing the inside of my cheek and sending it to the lab, I received a final report that did confirmed what my pediatrician felt all along: I barely metabolize any medications on the market.
However, now I needed to know what I could use, since my body was destined to experience more and more pain from my serious medical conditions.
I was sent to a pain clinic for a doctor to review my records. He reported there was nothing to offer me for pain relief except trying medical marijuana. I laughed. My whole life I had been told to stay away from “drugs” such as marijuana. Like many, I had tried it once in college but had a bad reaction and spent the rest of the day in bed. Marijuana did not seem like a good suggestion, and yet I was desperate for pain relief. Maybe I needed to try it one more time.
Due to the sarcoidosis in my chest, I would not be able to administer the medicine through conventional smoking. Instead, I was instructed on how to extract the THC into an oil base. The first night I measured one teaspoon of the oil and mixed it with applesauce. I took it an hour before going to bed, forewarning my husband to expect another reaction to a medication. To my amazement, I woke up to a new day. Not only had I slept the entire night, something I hadn’t done in months, I also woke feeling clear-headed.
I have been a medical marijuana user for over six years now. I know there is a misperception that constant use can cause cognitive issues, but my husband and I disagree. Since taking it for medicinal use, we have noticed that my vocabulary has improved along with my mental clarity. I have better control of my pain levels, which is allowing me to advocate for pain-related issues.
Today, my husband and I are Rhode Island Ambassadors for U.S. Pain Foundation and the Arthritis Foundation. We are also serving board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIAPC), and I have been appointed for the advisory committee for Adaptive Telephone Equipment Loan Program (ATEL). It means a great deal to my husband and me to do what we can for those who suffer, to share our experiences in hopes of generating change for others.
With that said, the most important part of our day is speaking with other patients, referred by Rhode Island doctors, that need help managing, coping and living with pain. Being able to help others is the most rewarding part of my life, which would not be possible if I did not have pain relief myself … relief that has allowed me to function and make a difference in this world.
And that relief comes from taking medicinal marijuana oil.
Education about the use of this form of pain relief is vital in order to change attitudes in our society. People need to know that no one dies using this medication or suffers organ damage. Society must understand that those living with pain do not get stoned or high: we receive pain relief.
Because of marijuana, I rarely need to take medication during the day. This is because the oil stays in the system, providing peace and calm I have not known in years. When I do have tougher days, I choose a vapor, tincture or marijuana lollipop to administer some relief. In the state of Rhode Island, the support for the medical need of this medication has been amazing. It took time to educate people on the benefits this drug brings those suffering, but now that people have information pertaining to this medication, I hardly hear negative comments about this form of medicine.
I feel we all deserve pain relief, and if this drug treats pain, we all should have the right to obtain it. With pain relief, comes renewal and hope. Days become brighter again, and the chance to live a more meaningful, productive life returns.
To those of you reading who feel compelled to connect or have further questions about, please contact me. It is my goal to help others.
-Ellen Lenox Smith