Medical marijuana is available for people in 33 states as well as Washington D.C., on paper. In reality, while some states like California or Oregon have friendlier attitudes toward pot in general, some states don’t make it easy. States that are more conservative tend to make it not only harder to qualify for a medical marijuana card, or MMJ, but also can have harsher limits on what people are able to take. MMJ’s are given by physicians for those with medical problems that cannabis could be used to help treat or relieve symptoms.

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Most times, marijuana is prescribed to help alleviate secondary problems caused by serious illnesses like cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy and more. The plant is also given to help the side-effects from other medical treatments such as chemotherapy. However, while it may help people in serious need, there is a host of problems that come along with medical marijuana.

Difficulties With Medical Marijuana

Ogden, Utah USA-July16,2016:Oxycontin bottle on shelf. Oxycontin in a drug known for it's addiction and theft potential. iStock / Pureradiancephoto
Caprice Sweatt learned that when she cut out nearly all pharmaceutical pills in the last three decades. She used regular pills like painkillers (opioids) and other pharmaceuticals to combat her Crohn’s Disease that she was diagnosed with at 17. “My entire life was changed when I started using cannabis to treat my medical problems. I went from feeling like crap every day to feeling the best I ever have and I haven’t gone back,” Sweatt told The Stash. “I made a promise that if marijuana was ever legalized that I would do what I can to help others like me.”

Sweatt isn’t a stranger to advocating for the cause. She was one of the first people to get an MMJ when she lived in Colorado and has been promoting marijuana in medical settings for years and in 2014, with her husband Eric, started traveling and educating doctors on the benefits of cannabis. Together, they run Medical Cannabis Outreach of Illinois, where they help over around 8,000 people a year and are looking to help 20,000 as they expand into other states.

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They currently offer a wide range of medical marijuana services, including marijuana-friendly doctors, help with fees, legal education and job assistance. “The one problem that most patients find when they are trying to get their medical marijuana card is judgment,” Sweatt said.

“If a doctor doesn’t know much about medical cannabis then they aren’t going to prescribe it.” For Sweatt, making sure everybody understands the reality of marijuana in the medical field means. When she began to seek out resources, she made it a priority to seek out physicians who wouldn’t immediately throw out anyone who has ever had a joint. “We need more cannabis-friendly physicians,” Sweatt said.

“Cannabis can be a wonderful tool to help people get off opiates and could seriously help us stop this horrible epidemic. The stigma behind marijuana could be stopping someone from truly changing their life.”

The Cost Of Medical Marijuana

One of the other major problems people encounter with medical marijuana is the cost. As marijuana is not legal at the federal level in any form, health insurance agencies are not rushing to cover all the costs. As most reading this know, any government form is probably costly and probably going to take a long time. The cost was something that the creators of Dispensary33, based out of Chicago, kept in mind as they prepped for opening.

The Cannabis Compassion Program

Cannabis Growing in Commercial Business Grow Space Female Budding Marijuana Plants iStock / SEASTOCK
“Our original application for the dispensary license included the Cannabis Compassion Program and we instituted the day we opened,” Abigail Watkins, part of the marketing team for Dispensary33, told The Stash.

They based their program on Berkeley Patients Group out of California that has been running a similar program for many years. The Cannabis Compassion Program that Dispensary33 started is meant to help combat the financial hardship living with chronic illness creates and the group donates at least one percent of our sales to economically distressed patients, free of charge.

“There were 12 awardees in the first round and we now support 20 patients per cycle. Every patient receives $240 of store credit every month, so at 20 patients we are now giving away $57 thousand yearly,” Watkins said. “Once an awardee is in the program, we don't tell them how to spend their CCP credit or restrict it to certain products in store, they get to use the credit however works best for them.”

Still, some of the problems that people encounter with medical marijuana can’t be fixed with a program.

The Cannabis Stigma

Despite the fact that 62 percent of Americans support marijuana and most people say they have at least tried it, there are still some major stigmas surrounding cannabis. “Most people just don’t know the truth about marijuana,” Sweatt said. “It really can be this beautiful thing that can do wonders.”

Sweatt pointed out that one of the main problems someone on medical marijuana will face is when it comes to a drug test. “People have to end up choosing whether or not they want their health or their job,” Sweatt said. “That is not a choice people should have to make.” Knowing that, Sweatt has made it a goal of her and her team to try and show employers that a THC drug test in a legal state only hurts people.

“We need to be making weed a first choice solution instead of the last step,” Sweatt said. “Looking at the opioid epidemic alone, there was a huge drop in deaths after medical marijuana was passed.”

Cannabis Can Combat Opioids

Indeed, a study done by the American Academy of Pain Medicine last year showed that medical marijuana does slow down the overdoses. “We found there was about a 25 percent lower rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths on average after implementation of a medical marijuana law,” lead study author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber said.

The study goes on to say that most likely, states with legal medical marijuana are more likely to prescribe a lower opiate dosage ALONG with marijuana, probably leading to less deaths. Still, with over 100 million people on opiates and thousands dying every year, maybe marijuana could be the answer to at least slowing it down.

Nonetheless, people like Sweatt are going to keep trying to create a more cannabis friendly world. “Cannabis can truly do wonders for a person with a chronic illness, anxiety, depression, PTSD and more,” Sweatt said. “But if no one can get it, then what’s the point?”

This article is only for informational purposes, and in no way should be considered medical advice. Please consult your physician before replacing any medication with cannabis.