Tips on Advocating for your State Medical Cannabis Program

Tips on Advocating for your State Medical Cannabis Program

By Ellen Lenox Smith.

I look forward to a time when all people in our country can experience safe and affordable access to medical cannabis. Although we are getting closer to achieving this, many still live in states that need to improve their medical program and a few are left with no program at all. Work to maintain and improve each state’s program never seems to be complete. seems to never be over.

Ellen Lenox Smith and friend

If you desire to know what you can do to help expedite the process of legalization or improve the program you have,  I thought it might be helpful to share our experience with you to help you work to generate the necessary political support to create the changes critical for the broad acceptance of medical cannabis.  My husband and I are the co-directors for Medical Cannabis Advocacy for the US Pain Foundation and have spent since 2007, advocating in RI and across the country for cannabis as an option as a legitimate medical treatment. I am both a patient and caregiver cultivating for others. We are very proud of the foundation for supporting the option of this medication and taking a positive stand.

So what can you do?

#1 - Click here to see where your state and medical cannabis laws stand to become familiar with where your state stands presently

#2 - If a bill has been submitted, find the name or names of those that have submitted it.

#3 - Contact the state legislator that submitted the bill and do one or all of the following:

  1. request a meeting
  2. leave a phone message
  3. write a letter
  4. offer to testify

The goal is to begin to establish a relationship with this person, to let them know your story and your willingness to help in any way you are able.

#4 - 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!

#5 - You will find that telling your story is the key - so try to find others who will also be able to share their condition and how using this medication helped them, too.  Share the condition, how it affects your daily life and how using medical marijuana, in the past, has made a dramatic difference.

#6 - 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 are the real person trying to cope and needing their help to pass this legislation.

#7 - 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:

  • A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces: Severe, debilitating, chronic pain
    • At this time the following states and U.S. territories do not include chronic pain as a qualifying condition, thus eliminating many for their rights to consider using cannabis: Illinois, Connecticut, Maine, Washington D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico
    • The following states only allow intractable pain: Arkansas, Minnesota and Washington
    • Failure to include wording for chronic pain, many will not ever qualify.
    • There are only four states left with no medical cannabis program at all, including not even allowing CBD which has no THC. Those states are: Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota
    • Louisana has begun to establish one but at this time there is no access.

#8 - If they want you to come testify, again, your demeanor matters - show them you are “their family, their neighbor, their friend” in need of safe pain relief.  Your primary role is to attempt to educate them! Prepare your speech before your arrival.

  • find out the time limit
  • consider putting your main points on a card to talk from, instead of just reading it, as 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.
  • then share how medical marijuana 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.
  • I always end with - “You never know what life might bring each of you next, I didn’t ask to have to cope with this condition. Please show your compassion.”

#9 - 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.

#10 - 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 may respond!

#11 - Another thing you can do is also contact us at the US Pain Foundation to see if we have ambassadors in your state who have expressed interest in advocating. We are happy to connect you with them if we have them listed. or and consider participating in our Action Links:

#12 - Those state that have begun to show compassion but only allow use of CBD, are Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.  Some of these states have pending bills that would allow for cannabis to be included. We would love to see all states allowing the choice of cannabis, not just CBD from hemp. I recently listened to the Webinar by Dr. Jordan Tishler who explains in this webinar that although CBD works for specific seizures for children, in time, the need for added THC is needed within six months to keep working. So these states need to work on adding cannabis to their medical program for these children and also all the adults in need for help with their medical issues, too.

Each state presents with different issues that need to be advocated for. A few states have no program at all, some only allow CBD. These states fear the psycho-active element in the cannabis will make patients high. Those of us that use cannabis correctly by not taking more than needed, do not walk around high. Instead, we get pain relief and a chance for improved quality of life. Some states have a cannabis program but have left out an important qualifying condition - chronic pain. So, each state advocate will be addressing something different. Our work to speak out remains and I hope you will consider taking this challenge on and using your voice or at least your written word!

Ellen Lenox Smith

Co-Director for Cannabis Advocacy for the US Pain Foundation

Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain- And Have a Good Life, Anyway  and

My Life as a Service Dog!

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Authored by: Ellen Lenox Smith

Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website.

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States that allow CBD only, as part of their state program, are still subject to federal law on FDA-approved drugs. Although it is rare for doctors to prescribe cannabis, because of threats by previous DEA Administrators to revoke their prescriber permits, FDA has authorized sale of synthetic THC in all 50 states. This makes it possible for a doctor to prescribe pure synthetic THC and a CBD oil. By administering some of each, doctors could legally give a patient a controlled dose that’s exactly like real cannabis, or contains a little more CBD and a little less THC, as fits the particular patient’s needs.

Since many people find this silly, it’s worth explaining to legislators that effectively the substance that concerns them most, THC, is already legal in their state because the FDA licensed it as a synthetic drug, and doctors in all 50 states can prescribe it. The beneficial substances that are not psychoactive, are what many people actually need to be able to get from cannabis plants. That could prove to be a persuasive argument.

Really great article, we need as many speaking out as we can. Another great resource for tips on advocating for medical cannabis is Americans For Safe Access. They have The Medical Cannabis Advocate’s Training Center online at . The medical science and research is there - it just needs to get in front of State lawmakers and Congressional members.

Kathleen Kaiser

Unfortunately I live in one of the four states that has no cannabis program. I live in Kansas. I do know that we have one person in Congress that has submitted bills to get marijuana legalized in some fashion over the last two or three sessions. And every time it dies. We have also twice had a group try to get enough signatures on a petition to have it on a voting ballot. Unfortunately after having submitted the list of signatures on the petitions our election official combs through these signatures and pulls out all signatures that are not considered good for the petition for one reason or another. I have no idea if he is against legalizing cannabis in some fashion or if our local group is that inept at getting legal signatures on the petitions.