Most medical cannabis advocates can name one key moment in their life when they knew they had to come out of the closet and campaign for regulated, legal access to the cannabis plant.
But there is also a clutch of extraordinary individuals who, when confronted with real evidence about the cannabis plant’s therapeutic potential, have done a 180 degree turn, transforming themselves from herb hater to cannabis campaigner.
1. The Doctor
Dr Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN, is perhaps the most high profile cannabis critic to come out in favour of the plant.
After years opposing cannabis legalization, he made a startling apology in an article titled “Why I changed my mind about weed” where he admits that we “have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”
So what had happened in the meantime?
Well, Dr Gupta had embarked on a now infamous documentary called Weed in which he met the likes of Charlotte Figi, the little girl with the rare epileptic condition Dravet Syndrome who suffered up to 300 seizures a day. After taking a high strength CBD oil, Charlotte’s seizures reduced to almost zero, calling into question Dr Gupta’s previously held belief that cannabis had no therapeutic use.
Now Dr Gupta is perhaps one of the most well known cannabis advocates in the medical profession, and there is even a strain of marijuana named in his honour.
2. The DEA Spokesperson
Belita Nelson, DEA spokesperson from 1994-2008, is now a medical cannabis advocate focusing on the treatment of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in professional football players.
She describes how right from the start she knew that the DEA position was a lie.
“Marijuana is safe, we know it is safe. It’s our cash cow and we will never give up,” she claims she was told on entering the agency by education coordinator Paul Villaescusa back in 1998.
Nelson continued towing the official DEA line until 2004, when she began investigating a heroin epidemic in Plano Texas. She discovered that addicts using cannabis experienced higher success rates of coming off opiates, and with that information she felt compelled to resign.
Unfortunately for the DEA, Nelson hadn’t signed a confidentiality agreement and has been free to share her experiences and knowledge ever since.
3. The Judge
Doug Bench, a retired judge in Florida, was responsible for sending 311 marijuana users to jail during his legal career. But then in a twist of fate, Bench himself contracted Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and on his wife’s insistence, began taking cannabis oil.
In a statement made to the Florida Department of Health Public Workshops on Medical Marijuana Implementation, he made the following impassioned testimony:
I’ve been haunted for thirty years wondering how many of those were using it for medicinal reasons, because our government suppressed that information for 70 years. I am now an advocate for medical marijuana because two years ago I was diagnosed with a terminal disease, that my blessed wife did four hours of research on the internet and discovered the benefits of cannabis oil for COPD. . . . It was a tough decision — I hated marijuana, I hated the use of marijuana, and the violation of law, but I had no choice if I wanted to live.
4. The Millionaire Businessman
Barry Lambert, one of the most successful and richest businessmen in Australia, had never smoked a joint in his life. Rather than actively opposing cannabis, it just wasn’t on his radar. That is, until his desperately ill granddaughter Katelyn began to run out of treatment options.
Katelyn, aged 5, also has Dravet Syndrome, which saw her suffering up to 1,400 seizures a day. While researching on the internet, Katelyn’s father came across the numerous accounts of children whose seizures had been reduced after taking CBD.
After placing an order online, they were delighted to find that Katelyn also responded to the CBD extract.
Millionaire granddad Barry was so moved by Katelyn’s improvement that he decided to donate $33.7 million (Aus) to Sydney University to fund vital research into medical cannabis.
He says: “We only came across it because of our granddaughter. We never smoked the stuff. We wouldn’t be doing this if we hadn’t stumbled across it because it’s not mainstream.”
But now Barry is the cannabis plant’s biggest fan. “I think the cannabis plant will be proven to be the wonder plant of this century, I know it’s been around for previous centuries, but I think scientists will discover what a wonderful plant it is, and it will be a great benefit to mankind.”
5. The Political Lobbyist
Cindy Sovine-Miller, 37, from Colorado, is a political lobbyist, and for 15 years represented health companies and big business.
Cindy had always steered clear of the marijuana industry, until her father became seriously ill with cancer. Out of desperation Cindy’s mother decided to try medical cannabis.
But Cindy herself was against the decision. In an interview with Westword she describes how she remembers telling her mother: “There is no evidence. You should leave it to the doctors, to the people who know what they’re doing.”
But as the size of the tumour noticeably shrunk on her father’s face, Cindy’s position began to soften. Sadly her father died in 2015, but his death was peaceful, something she attributes to medical cannabis.
“I saw my dad go from being a vegetable in a hospital waiting to die to being at home again, thanks to a plant.” She goes on, “I had spent my career helping to build a system that was failing people. I said to myself, ‘I can’t do this. I worked for the wrong people.’ ”
After cutting ties with her clients, Cindy began lobbying for medical cannabis patients whose interests needed representing on Capitol Hill.
It takes guts for people to publicly admit they are wrong, particularly when it comes to cannabis. So, it’s only right and fair then that we salute these brave individuals, and the many more who champion the right to access the cannabis plant for our health, and the health of our children.