Cannabis Patient Care - December 2022

Cannabis Patient Care- December 2022

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35 advocate focus november/december 2022 | cannabis patient care Americans for Safe Access' Declassified Guide to Becoming a Medical Cannabis Advocate B Y M A D E L I N E C O L L I F OR MORE THAN 20 years, women-led Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scien- tists, and citizens, have been advocating for cannabis to be seen as a form of medicine (1). In this article, Steph Sherer, Founder and President of ASA, and Debbie Churgai, Executive Director of ASA, discuss the importance of medical cannabis and how advocacy will light the way forward. The Beginning of an Advocacy Era ASA was founded in 2002 by Sherer, who was a self-described cocky 25-year-old medical cannabis patient. She saw that there was more than 80% support nationwide for medical cannabis and assumed it would be a piece of cake to overturn federal illegalization and legalize cannabis for medical pa- tients. Sherer was led to advocacy through federal raids taking place in the Bay Area (2). Nothing was being done to protect individuals who were providing medical cannabis or for the patients receiving that medicine. Soon she became involved with other advocacy groups to try to have these individuals and businesses protected. With this network, advocates like Sherer banded together and took part in protests which led to the removal of legislative barriers and provided better pro- tection for medical cannabis patients. Further down the road, Churgai joined the organization in a temporary role before a Unity Conference. "The Unity Conference is such an amazing, wonderful ex- perience where patients gather together, and they really feel a community vibe," said Churgai. "After being in that environ- ment and just seeing these patients, seeing how much ASA meant to them, seeing that patients really need this medicine and they need safe and affordable medicine, and knowing that ASA was the one that was really fighting for them, I really just fell in love with the organization." Instead of moving on from her temporary position at ASA, Churgai stayed on and became a team with Sherer, growing the women-led organization. So, You Want to Become an Advocate? Sherer has a wealth of advice and recommendations for anyone interested in medical cannabis advocacy. "Policy happens from individuals, and we have created a lot of the resources for pa- tients," said Sherer. For example, ASA has an advocacy training center that helps individuals become more involved. "If you're looking around and you're not seeing the medical cannabis policy that you want to see, you can definitely sign up with us and start learning more about being an advocate," said Sherer. By becoming an advocate, you are amplifying pos- itive response on medical cannabis. "Advocacy is just better- ing your knowledge of how to take that passion and that work and amplifying it to a broader audience and to policymakers," Sherer added. In the beginning stages of an advocate's journey, no one wakes up as a policy expert. Over the last 20 years, Sherer be- came an expert in legal strategies. Before ASA, she hadn't passed anything bigger than a city ordinance. Through ASA, Sherer has learned not only how to pass city ordinances but has gone on to pass state laws and federal legislation. Sher- er now knows how to challenge regulatory agencies and how to create strategies to change the scheduling at the United Nations (UN). Although the journey can be a bit daunting, you have to start somewhere. "I would advise folks to come to our website (3), where we have a whole list of resources for advocates to get started. But advocacy is also when you read a story in your local paper where they get it wrong or if your local TV station is talking about medical cannabis in a disparaging way, that's an opportunity for you to engage. You can reach out to that reporter and say, 'Hey, I'm a medical cannabis patient. That's actually not what happened.' When you see something going around on social media and you know it isn't correct, challenge it," said Sherer. "Don't just share something to your social media feed, actually comment and help people see that perspective. When you hear about legislation in your community that you know isn't right or isn't going to work for patients, reach out to legislators." Part of advocacy is that you're playing a role in bringing a vision to reality. For example, we do not have a federal med- ical cannabis program yet because it hasn't been created. Without advocates voices, there's a slim chance such a pro- gram could be created. Sherer also shared her comments for those individu- als questioning if they should dip their toes into cannabis

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