As Goes Ohio, So Goes the Nation: Inside Ohio's Corrupt Medical Marijuana Rollout

11/02/2017 04:14 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2017

This is the conclusion of a four-part series, click to read parts 1, 2, and 3

President Trump made a lot of promises on his campaign, and he won the election because the right people in the right states believed him. One promise Trump made was not to interfere with state-legal marijuana. But, shortly after the election, he nominated one of the nation’s most rabid drug warriors, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, to fill the crucial role of attorney general. State legal marijuana programs are still moving forward, but now a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the entire industry nationwide. In Ohio, only a wealthy few will get the right to grow, but neither that nor the uncertainty from the federal government has stopped the investment money from pouring in.

The opiate epidemic has claimed more lives in Ohio than any other state. The industries that fueled many of its rural economies have mostly disappeared and voters there were eager to believe Trump’s promises. He fought hard for the state throughout the primaries and, just days after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in early October 2016, he returned to Ohio to convince voters to forget about it.

In an auditorium at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Trump delivered what was billed nationally as his “Millennial Policy Speech” because it was aimed at the new largest generation in America, a generation that will wield more power in coming elections and one that is coming of age in a rapidly changing American economy.

Trump smiled his signature big-chinned grin as he beamed back approvingly at the audience, in the throes of chanting “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!”

“So young, and so jaded already. But, you understand life, I am impressed. You understand life at a young age!”

He pivoted to his teleprompters and began reading, adding in his own ad libbed commentary.

“We are the campaign of change, you know that. We will deliver jobs, opportunity and justice for future generations. We will, you better believe it,” Trump said.

According to the Brookings Institution, millennials will comprise up to 75 percent of the American workforce by 2025. Unlike generations before them, they are more financially unstable due to their inheritance of a rapidly changing global economy and the worst recession since the Great Depression. If, nationally, millennials are anxious about the economy, millennials in rural Ohio are desperate.

While Ohio almost perfectly mirrors the national poverty rate, the county-by-county numbers tell a different story. Urban Ohio is growing, while Appalachian Ohio is still reeling from the decline of manufacturing and coal. Poverty rates are nearly triple the national average in the region. If that wasn’t enough, the area has become ground zero to the national opiate epidemic, where more people are dying in larger numbers than any other state.

And, although Ohio is one of the most important battleground states in national presidential elections, most presidential candidates, even Ohio’s own Governor John Kasich, were seemingly oblivious to the people’s suffering.

Back in the auditorium at Ohio State University, Trump was serving up his campaign’s greatest hits to a hungry crowd: “Crooked Hillary” belongs in jail for “the emails”, the “failing” New York Times is full of bad sick people, the media is the enemy and he is the only candidate not beholden to the government corporatocracy who can fix the economy. But then, he struck the most personal chord, making the promises this audience really wanted to hear.

“Right now, our government has been taken hostage by global special interests that will stop at nothing to drain every last ounce of wealth from this country for their personal benefit, you’re gonna see it,” Trump said. “The new debt added under Obama and Clinton would have been enough to pay off all of the outstanding student loans in the United States six times over. Think of that, yet not one penny of that new debt has gone to lowering your tuition, and the people that are gonna follow you—well it only gets worse.”

“It’s outrageous!” yelled a man in the crowd.

“He’s right!” Trump declared while scanning the crowd. “Who said that? Stand up! Nice looking guy, good, ok sit down.”

Trump moved on to specifics; he would lower the cost of college tuition and “solve the student loan crisis”. He would cap repayment at 12.4 percent of a borrower’s income and forgive loans entirely after 15 years of faithful repayment. He would crack down on the universities who benefit from the large federally subsidized loans students receive. This would all happen “immediately”.

Someone else in the crowd shouted in response, “The art of the deal!” in reference to Trump’s own ghost-written autobiography, referencing the President’s touted ability to negotiate.

“The art of the deal,” Trump paused to soak in the crowd’s admiration.

As many predicted, Trump did not keep these promises. Almost the opposite has happened. After rust belt states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania delivered Trump an electoral college victory on the promise he would “drain the swamp” of Washington insiders, he appointed Betsy Devos, the sister of billion-dollar defense contractor Blackwater founder Eric Prince to U.S. Secretary of Education. In July, Devos kicked off the “student loan relief” package Trump had promised by reversing two Obama-era rules that made it easier for students to pay back their loans. There has been no new cap on repayments, a student loan forgiveness program was halted by Devos in July and no 15-year debt forgiveness program has been pitched or proposed by the president.

When Trump secured the Republican nomination in late May of 2016, he had bested 18 other professional Republican politicians in the primaries, including the party’s then-rising stars Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina, among others. Most had dropped out early, but two candidates continued to challenge him to the bitter end—Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. As the nominations neared, many party moderates were looking to Kasich to be the establishment Republican who could defeat Trump and win the presidency.

In the midst of the heated primary, Kasich’s Republican-led state government was working at breakneck speed to pass a medical marijuana bill. Their hands had been forced by years of grassroots efforts to pass medical marijuana and the looming threat of a 2016 ballot initiative, which could turn out more liberal voters to the polls on a presidential ticket Kasich wanted to win.

Local activists had pushed for years for rights-based medical marijuana legislation but ended up with a program where the same corporate interests they had been fighting for years will likely reap all the legal profits. The chronic and terminally ill people the law was passed for are one year into a two-year wait to make a plant already growing all around them legally accessible.

Over 185 well-financed applications have now been submitted for only 24 total cultivation licenses. Many are connected to the profiteer funders of ResponsibleOhio, a 2015 ballot amendment campaign that would have made it the first state to skip medical marijuana and go straight for full legalization, with the catch that the campaign’s investors would constitutionalize their own right to be the only legal pot growers in the state. Activists successfully defeated the measure but weren’t ready for what came next.

As the state gets closer to awarding the coveted grow licenses, it seems like it will be the ResponsibleOhio investors who are doing all the “winning” while the patients who put their stories out there to change public opinion just might be the biggest losers.

Kasich’s Bitter Pill

John Kasich has been campaigning for president for a long time, and in some ways, he hasn’t stopped even though his rival, Trump, has just taken office. He has set himself apart from the president as a “moderate” who can play nice with Democrats to get things done.

After Trump was inaugurated, Kasich released a book Two Paths: America Divided or United, branding himself as the “can’t we all just get along?” conservative voice of reason in the face of growing national tensions and political instability. In May, he did an extensive media tour to promote the book, even stopping by notably left-leaning shows like HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher”.

“I think my audience agrees with me, you’re one of the good ones,” Maher said as he shook Kasich’s hand and welcomed him to the stage.

Maher said he was about to get his “liberal California audience” on Kasich’s side by starting out commending him for “some of the things he has done for reform.”

“First of all, you supported medical marijuana in Ohio, correct?” Maher asked. The audience clapped tentatively.

“Well we did because we felt that we were going to lose, that we were gonna get involved in--,” Kasich began to stutter out.

“Just say ‘yes’,” Maher replied.

“No, I will tell you what, here’s my concern about it. I know you legalized it here [in California] for recreational reasons, but you know we have this big opiate problem, as you know, and--,” Kasich began again.

“Nothing to do with pot,” Maher cut him off again.

It seemed that everywhere Kasich went to promote his unity message, the conversation kept coming back to medical marijuana, and every time, Kasich explained his opposition by conflating the issue with the opiate epidemic. Kasich conceded to Maher’s point, but continued explaining that he had consulted with DEA agents who were concerned about the message sent to kids, for which Maher chastised him.

“All I am saying is we have an enormous problem, you know it and we all know it,” Kasich said.

“Yes, with opiates,” replied Maher.

“Yes, with opiates, which then leads to this problem of heroin and fentanyl, which is deadly... what I am saying to you is, I don’t want to be confusing, but we do have medical marijuana in Ohio,” Kasich continued.

Maher gave up and pivoted the conversation instead to Kasich being the rare Republican governor who expanded Medicaid in his state under Obamacare and opposed President Trump’s health care bill. It was welcome respite to Kasich, who could shift from the marijuana issue back into his comfortable, moderate, still presidential hopeful talking points, which Maher labeled “Republican Classic.”

As much as Kasich wanted to promote a message of Republican-led unity, his interviews were instead consumed by talking about running against President Trump and “drugs”.

Kasich had long taken the view that marijuana is “drugs” and “drugs” were a major issue for which more law enforcement funding was needed. In April 2015, during the ResponsibleOhio marijuana legalization campaign, he doubled down on his opposition in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. Kasich said he opposed the legalization effort at the time because he was “against drugs”.

A month earlier, the race for the presidential primaries had started earlier than usual when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced he would run in 2016 and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio quickly followed. It was rumored Kasich would soon be throwing his hat in the ring as well. Hewitt asked Kasich if he planned to shut down state-legal marijuana programs if he became president. He said he would “have to think about it,” and added he was opposed to “drugs” because “it is a scourge on this country” and that if elected he would “lead a significant campaign down at the grassroots level to stomp these drugs out.”

On July 21, 2015, one month after Trump announced his campaign, Kasich declared his candidacy.

It wasn’t long until Kasich became a target of Trump’s. When Trump arrived in Ohio as the national frontrunner in the leadup to the March 2016 primary, state Republican leadership were vocal in their disdain for the candidate, saying Kasich would be a better unifier. In response, Trump skipped an event in Florida to stay in Ohio longer to target Kasich. Trump called Kasich an “absentee governor” who was too busy campaigning for president to take care of his state, mocking him for not already dropping out of the race and more importantly, hit Kasich’s support for NAFTA while a U.S. congressman in the 1990s, which he blamed for the decline of manufacturing.

Kasich won Ohio in the primaries, but Trump was not far behind him. In May, Kasich had dropped out when it was clear Trump would be the nominee. In July, the Republican National Convention was held in Cleveland and Trump formally accepted the party’s nomination. Kasich skipped the convention and instead hosted his own event at the nearby Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, infuriating Trump. In October, Matt Borges, the state’s Republican Party chairman and Kasich loyalist, announced publicly he would not vote for Trump. Trump’s state campaign director, Robert Paduchik penned a letter to the 66-member governing body of the Ohio State Republican Party in response, seeking to force Borges to tow the party line. A back and forth between Borges and the Trump campaign ensued.

On November 8, Trump secured 454,983 more votes than Hillary Clinton in Ohio, and as goes Ohio, so goes the nation.

Before the election, Borges had aspired to be national party chair. But in January 2017, shortly before Trump was inaugurated, Borges was voted out of his position as Ohio’s Republican party chairman in favor of Trump’s choice, Jane Timken. Robert Paduchik was promoted to co-chairman of the Republican National Committee.

As for Matt Borges, whose loyalty to anti-drug Kasich contributed to his losing his position, he is applying to be one of only 24 Ohio license holders with the exclusive right to grow for the new medical marijuana market. Kasich is still kinda-not-really running for president and still opposed to legal marijuana, because, the opiate epidemic.

Poppies, Pills & Pain

In late October, President Trump declared the opiate epidemic a public health emergency. He promised, “We will overcome addiction in America.”

Opiates are not new and neither is opiate abuse, but opiate drugs have never been stronger and abuse and overdose deaths have never reached levels higher than those of today. Opioids occur in nature, specifically in the Papaver somniferum “opium poppy”. Poppies have been cultivated and used by humans as an entheogen, an intoxicant and to treat pain as early as 3400 B.C.E. In the nineteenth century, scientists began to isolate it into pharmaceutical preparations, but the industry wouldn’t fully take off until the dawn of the twentieth century.

With the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, and the creation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the unregulated opium, marijuana and cocaine-laced tonics sold by the “snake oil salesmen” of the late nineteenth century were replaced with legally defined “safe medicines”. In order for drugs to be prescribed as medicine, the active drug compounds responsible for their effects must undergo rigorous research and clinical trials to prove their safety and efficacy. This new system of drug regulation invariably favors patentable synthetic or isolated compounds over the use of whole botanical medicinal plants or diet in treatment. While isolated or synthesized drug compounds can easily be made consistent for such trials, plants (like humans) are living and constantly evolving organisms and cannot. Plants especially cannot be standardized in the same fashion as a pharmaceutical drug because they have variable genetics from seed to seed and variable end products depending on the environment and conditions under which they are grown. In short, it’s nearly impossible to patent and solely profit from nature in its natural form.

Richard DeGrandpre writes about the drug ideology that has defined western medicine in his book The Cult of Pharmacology. DeGrandpre breaks down the ideology as an almost religious belief that some drugs are inherently “good” while others are inherently “bad”, a sentiment echoed by President Trump who referred to opiate-drug fentanyl as a “truly evil opioid”. Although these good versus evil distinctions have very little basis in science, they are the backbone of American drug policy. Under this ideology, which DeGrendpre refers to as “pharmacologicalism”, plant drugs are most often demonized in the pursuit of profits.

“The idea that a drug has an essence that the user inevitably consumes along with the drug itself is part of a system of ‘pharmacologicalism.’ Technically speaking, pharmacologicalism, like racism, is an ideological system rooted in a set of assumptions that, although false and exaggerated, govern a whole range of perceptions, understandings, and actions.... Pharmacologicalism dictates that the moral status of a drug exists as a purely scientific question that can be documented and classified once and for all, not as a societal one that must be considered and reconsidered across time and place. Society, culture and history can be ignored,” DeGrandpre writes.

The evolution from poppy to pill was only just beginning with the invention of morphine in 1827, which was derived from opium and manufactured for sale by Merck & Co. In 1874, English researcher C. R. Wright synthesized heroin for the first time by boiling morphine and acetic anhydride. Finding it made him sick, he discontinued the research. Pharmaceutical company Bayer improved upon Wright’s research and made the first pharmaceutical heroin. It was originally prescribed not just for pain, but also as a treatment for everything from menstrual cramps to morphine addiction. Heroin addiction soared in the late 19th century, leading to the first national drug prohibition in the United States, the Heroin Act of 1924.

Marijuana” or cannabis would be banned a decade later with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

And as it turned out, heroin prohibition has done very little to solve the opiate problem. Instead, illegal street heroin is still available all over America and the demand for both legal and illegal opiates is higher than ever. The heroin and morphine of the 19th century have given way to more synthetic opiate development and production in increasing strengths; Vicodin®, OxyContin®, Dilauded® and Fentanyl®, among others. Today opiates are available and prescribed in candies, oral and intravenous liquids and pills. Now there is Carfentanil, which is 100 times more potent than Fentanyl (which is already a more potent form of morphine, a more potent form of opium), is lethal in tiny amounts and used to increase the potency of street heroin. Carfentanil is not intended for use in humans, but instead large animals, specifically elephants.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opiate overdose deaths have quadrupled since 2010. In 2016, 64,000 Americans died of an overdose of opiates and now it is the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50.

Nowhere in America is the problem worse than in Ohio, where the body count rises every year and some counties, like rural Montgomery, are on track to double overdose deaths in 2017 over 2016. Last year 4,900 people died of an opiate overdose statewide. This year, Ohio’s coroners say they are at their breaking point.

“This is no different than some kind of mass-casualty event in any other form. It’s just a medical event,” Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger told NBC News.

Harshbarger told NBC News up to 70 percent of the bodies he is processing are of overdose victims, and because he is the sole coroner for one-fifth of the state, he is pleading for federal assistance.

“We’re on a pace to have 800 people die this year due to overdose in our county. Per capita we are number one in that nation in overdose deaths,” Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer also told NBC News. “Our job market has tanked, we lost all of our automotive industry and I think it’s driven by the loss of a good job.”

There is more and more evidence to suggest that addiction is tied to childhood trauma, mental health and financial insecurity, in addition to the molecular structure of a drug, making “addiction” a complicated multifaceted condition to treat. Governor Kasich’s approach has been based more on law enforcement than science, however.

In 2011, Kasich responded to the epidemic by creating the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team, or task force, which has done very little to stem the tide of opiate overdoses and perhaps may have actually been responsible for increasing them. The opiate task force has taken an expensive three-pronged approach of increased law enforcement, youth drug prevention educational programs and increased funding for treatment and rehab.

Despite making it “more difficult to traffic drugs”, decreasing opiate prescriptions by cracking down on “pill mill” doctors, encouraging conversations about “drugs” with kids and increasing funding for treatment, more and more people keep dying anyway. By cracking down on opiate prescriptions, Kasich has only increased the demand for illegal street heroin, and although he couldn’t have predicted it, street heroin is now being cut with Fentanyl and Carfentanil by the illegal cartels providing it, making it more potent, more addictive and more lethal.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, in 2012 (a year after the founding of the task force) there were only 75 Fentanyl-related opiate overdose deaths. In 2015 that number jumped to 1,155. Prescription opiate overdoses notably fell during the same years as more people turned to heroin amid the pharmaceutical crackdowns.

In 2017, the task force’s strategy is more of the same; increased penalties for trafficking Fentanyl, increased funding for (mostly for-profit) rehabilitation programs, monitoring prescriptions in pharmacies electronically via the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS), increasing the availability of overdose rescue drug Naloxone and talking to kids about drug prevention.

Last year, the state of Ohio spent millions in federal aid combatting the opiate epidemic, which they say is just not enough. In late May 2017, the state filed a lawsuit against five pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opiate crisis; Purdue, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical and subsidiary Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Allergan.

In the lawsuit, Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is currently running for governor, said these companies “helped unleash a health care crisis that has had far-reaching financial, social, and deadly consequences in the State of Ohio.”

Ohio, however, failed to sue Insys Therapeutics, one of the primary producers of Fentanyl. In December 2016, the FBI arrested six former Insys executives for allegedly “bribing doctors” to prescribe more Fentanyl. Insys also produces Dronabinol®, or a Schedule III pharmaceutical drug made from pure synthesized THC, the primary compound found in the cannabis plant. Insys, on one hand, donated $500,000 last year to oppose a legalization measure in Arizona, and on the other continues to study the development of patentable drugs made from isolated compounds within the cannabis plant.

Not all Fentanyl comes from Insys or even other pharmaceutical companies, it is now being produced in Asia and both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border in underground labs using the same techniques.

While Kasich’s administration attempts to spend and sue its way out of the opiate epidemic, it has knowingly turned a blind eye to a potentially game-changing solution being demanded by its population; a robust medical marijuana program. Since the opiate task forces were created, medical cannabis advocates have had one on one conversations with task force members about both the steady drops of overdose rates in legal states and the medical potential of using non-lethal cannabis to replace pharmaceutical opiates for chronic pain patients. Cannabis, unlike heroin or pharmaceutical opiates, claimed zero lives in Ohio or the rest of the nation last year, or the year before that or the thousands of years before that.

In March of this year, researchers at the University of California San Diego analyzed opiate overdose rates in California and other states with robust (non-oligopoly) medical or legal marijuana programs over a 20-year period and found a 23 percent decline in overdoses in legal states. A similar 2014 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found a similar 25 percent decline, concluding the deaths would continue to decline over time. A 2016 study out of the University of Georgia found that in “legal states” new prescriptions for opiate painkillers decreased as did the affiliated Medicare spending. A 2009 study and another in 2017 found that CBD, a component in cannabis, actually reduced heroin-seeking behavior in rats.

Unlike single-compound painkillers like Fentanyl, botanical cannabis has a very low addiction profile (lower than coffee) and, due to the hundreds of variable compounds in each genetically unique variety, it is often just as effective to use the same amount of another variety than it is to increase the dosage of just one. It is also non-lethal and effective for pain, making it an important tool for chronic pain patients and those struggling with abuse.

But Ohio’s problems aren’t just about stronger drugs but weakened opportunity, as Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer observed. The “lack of a good job” in the Rust Belt states led to more people turning to the black market for income and less people having a reason to want to be sober.

When ResponsibleOhio tried to legalize marijuana in 2015 and failed, they did so because they lost the support of the working poor and underground growers, who also felt they deserved a small piece of the pie should the multi-billion dollars and growing legal marijuana industry come to their state.

While Gov. Kasich did sign the medical marijuana bill, H.B. 523, he has said repeatedly that he only did so after having his hand forced by threat of 2016 ballot initiative. Now, he has tasked leaders of the anti-marijuana pharmaceutical-fueled coalition Project SAM to advise the rulemaking bodies on how to proceed even though Project SAM’s work is sponsored by the very pharmaceutical companies that have fueled the killer opiate epidemic. Under the new law, opiate addiction will not be a qualifying condition, meaning doctors will not have the right to recommend it to their patients in place of opiates.

In September of this year, Fentanyl overtook heroin as the leading cause of drug deaths in the United States. Kasich remains unconvinced cannabis would do anything to lower opiate overdoses in his state and continues to discourage its use, because, the opiate epidemic. The Trump administration, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is advocating for the same strategies as Ohio’s task force, nationwide.

As the bodies fill the morgues in Ohio and around the country, whole industries have stepped in to capitalize on the epidemic, pushing legislation through statehouses encouraging the use of expensive pharmaceutical opiate replacements or opiate blocker drugs. Alkermes has even lobbied directly to judges and corrections institutions in Ohio and other states to push its expensive opiate-blocking drug Vivitrol. Vivitrol is being promoted heavily right now by its manufacturer, Alkermes, as the next big pharma-windfall for its investors, despite FDA approval based solely on a single Russian study. Insurance companies and rehabilitation clinics have joined Alkermes to get the expensive treatment, and others like it, covered by Medicaid and promoted alongside research technology that would lead to more addiction-centered drug treatment. Alkermes currently employs five lobbyists in Ohio.

This big-business approach is being pushed heavily by Patrick J. Kennedy, co-founder of Project SAM. Project SAM now has senior leadership on Kasich’s medical marijuana advisory team as well as lobbyists in D.C. working hard to shape both the opiate crisis and cannabis policy in favor of the pharmaceutical companies that fund their work.

Learn About SAM

Project SAM, or “Smart Approaches to Marijuana” was founded in 2013 by Dr. Kevin Sabet, former Rhode Island congressman Patrick J. Kennedy and conservative columnist David Frum. Project SAM’s efforts are primarily led by Sabet, who has dubbed himself the “quarterback of the anti-legalization movement”. Sabet is not a medical doctor, but instead has a Ph.D. in social policy. Sabet advocates for development of pharmaceutical drugs derived from compounds in cannabis, like Marinol, and the continued prohibition and criminalization of the cannabis plant.

“Despite Kevin Sabet’s media statements in which he champions and invokes the language of evidence-based medicine, public health, and scientific reasoning when recommending his ‘middle way’ cannabis policy, to be clear, he has no formal education in any of the relevant fields which would equip him with the ability to properly weigh the body of evidence regarding the risks and benefits of cannabis use,” writes Dr. Sunil Aggarwal on his personal website. “In addition to being misleading, I personally take affront to Sabet’s unqualified yet self-perceived medical and scientific credibility for which he gets a pass from the media.”

Aggarwal, a classmate of Sabet’s at U.C. Berkeley, is an integrative pain and palliative medicine physician, as well as one of the world’s leading medical cannabis researchers and experts. Aggarwal has a medical doctorate, a PhD, completed a National Institutes of Health-sponsored medical scientist training program and was a research fellow with the National Science Foundation. Sabet has no medical training whatsoever.

While Sabet is the face of the movement, Kennedy is its soul. Kennedy, the son of former Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy and nephew of former president John. F. Kennedy, has become an addiction expert and spokesman, despite having no formal medical training either. Kennedy, though, has both a famous name and his own story of addiction to tell, one that shapes his entire line of work today in finding treatments for the “disease” of addiction.

Kennedy struggled with depression and addiction for most of his life. In 2006, he crashed his car into barricades near Capitol Hill while under the influence of prescription drugs. After years of media about his struggles, he got clean and came forward to tell his story in the book, Coming Clean, and on a CNN special to promote it.

Kennedy was treated for his addiction with two drugs, Suboxone (an opiate) and a drug called Naltrexone, aka Alkermes’s Vivitrol. Today he compares the struggle to recognize addiction as a mental health disorder to the civil rights struggle under his uncle’s presidency. His signature achievement, the Parity Act, signed into law by former President George W. Bush in 2008, requires insurers to achieve coverage parity for mental health with other medical or surgical benefits, leading to more people getting addiction treatment covered by their insurance. The book was meant to push a larger initiative towards “solving” addiction.

Kennedy likens his initiative, The Kennedy Forum, to his uncle J.F.K.’s “moon-shot”, but instead of sending a man to the moon, he wants to unlock the secrets of the brain and create cures for mental health disorders and addiction. Kennedy advocates for the “disease” model of treatment, meaning all addiction should be classified as a lifelong chronic neurological disorder. He likens it to a diabetic needing insulin, and that through more research and technology, personalized pharmaceutical care can be developed to treat each individual’s varying disease.

The disease model, however, isn’t quite settled science and remains debated in psychiatric communities, although widely accepted by for-profit rehabilitation centers that administer drugs to treat addiction.

“Widespread enthusiasm for the disease model has led to willingness to overlook the facts. Addiction has very little in common with diseases. It is a group of behaviors, not an illness on its own. It cannot be explained by any disease process. Perhaps worst of all, calling addiction a ‘disease’ interferes with exploring or accepting new understandings of the nature of addiction,” writes Dr. Lance Dodes in an article for Psychology Today.

Dodes is a former professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of The Heart of Addiction: A New Approach to Understanding and Managing Alcoholism and Other Addictive Behaviors. Dodes argues that when physical dependence is being conflated with “addiction”, the underlying cause of the patient’s specific addiction, be it trauma, genetics, physical dependence, pain, other mental health issues or a combination of all or some of the above, go untreated in favor of for-profit pharmaceutical solutions.

Dr. Carl Hart, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University, argues the disease model of treatment could actually be harming more people than it is helping. Hart grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Miami that was severely impacted by the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. The experience drove Hart’s life work, which like Kennedy, is to attempt to solve addiction once and for all. Unlike Kennedy, he started with science, which has informed a wholly different approach to treating drug addiction, which he described in a 2014 TedMed Talk in San Francisco.

“The first step is to be honest about drug use. If we are honest, we can decrease the number of people who die from drugs dramatically. The drugs themselves are not the problem. The real problems are poverty, unemployment, selective drug law enforcement, ignorance and the dismissal of science surrounding these drugs,” Hart concluded.

Kennedy’s initiative, The Kennedy Forum, advocates for more coverage of drugs like Vivitrol by state Medicaid programs. It’s work is sponsored by a who’s-who of opiate producing pharmaceutical companies like Janssen and Eli Lilly (the first company to market morphine and now its own Vivitrol-like drug), Takeda Pharmaceuticals (that makes a drug for opiate-induced constipation and Contrave, another Vivitrol-like drug), as well as Otsuka, Sunovian and Lundbeck Pharmaceuticals, which all make sleep and depression drugs. Other prominent sponsors include the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, a lobbying group for the industry and a slew of the for-profit drug rehabilitation centers that administer anti-drug drugs like Beacon Health Centers, Strategic Behavioral Health Clinics, MADO Healthcare, Centene Corp and US Health Vest. Health insurance, drug testing and pharmaceutical research technology companies are also sponsors.

In addition to his work at the Kennedy Forum and Project SAM, Kennedy is on the board of Clean Slate, (anti-drug drug dispensing clinics), Axial Healthcare a company that uses technology to better prescribe these drugs, One Mind which has partnered with fentanyl producer Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and MediBio, another software platform to study human interactions with pharmaceutical medications in Australia.

Kennedy’s work has expanded to, along with Sabet, leading the charge against what they call “the next big tobacco”, legal marijuana. Together they advocate against legalization and for pharmaceutical derivatives of the plant. Kennedy says the problem is that the public and health professionals aren’t treating addiction enough like a disease, and that legalized marijuana is one of the biggest roadblocks to “curing” drug addiction because, the opiate epidemic.

“Why do we want to repeat the mistakes there? We saw Purdue Pharma oversell these OxyContins and what did we get? A heroin epidemic. We don’t need to imagine what is going to happen with marijuana,” Kennedy told Yahoo News’s Bianna Golodryga in April.

Kennedy was referring to the company’s aggressive marketing of OxyContin, a drug he admits to having been addicted to although he never had a “marijuana problem”. This, however, did not stop him from speaking at events sponsored by Purdue and other pharmaceutical drug makers. In fact, Project SAM’s primary partner, the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (CADCA) is sponsored primarily by pharmaceutical companies that profit heavily off opiate drugs.

CADCA’s mission is to “prevent alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse” and is one of the largest anti-drug organizations in the country. According to The Nation’s Lee Fang, it’s operating and event budgets come primarily from large pharmaceutical companies like Abbot Laboratories (makers of Vicodin), Alkermes, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceutical and, of course, Purdue Pharmaceuticals.

And, while Project SAM itself has a relatively tiny operating budget, a fact Sabet is happy to disclose, the community groups they work with are often federally funded, and do most of their proselytizing for them, with SAM providing the talking points and marketing materials. In 2015, Project SAM’s 501(c)3, SAM, Inc., brought in about $350,000 in revenue. It’s political arm, or 501(c)4, SAM Action Inc, brought in just $36,000 in 2015.

In 2016 Project SAM, in addition to community non-profits, targeted tax-free churches in Nevada to do their political bidding. In California, Project SAM was recently fined for illegal campaigning against legalization last year, but that hasn’t deterred states like Ohio from seeking their guidance.

In Ohio, Kasich has given Project SAM an influential seat at the table to regulate the state’s medical marijuana program. Project SAM’s national director of state and local affairs, Tony Coder, was named to the state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee, which is drafting recommendations for the rulemaking bodies on how to roll out legislation. Prior to those posts, Coder was the assistant director of the Drug Free Action Alliance. Drug Free Action Alliance, which works with Project SAM, is an Ohio based nonprofit that receives funding from Ohio-based Cardinal Health, an extremely profitable company that produces Fentanyl. Cardinal Health recorded revenues of $120 billion last year and is under attack in neighboring West Virginia by Teamsters angry at their role in fueling the opiate epidemic.

Project SAM’s ties go beyond the pharmaceutical industry all the way to the federal government.

In 2012, shortly before the passage of legalization laws in Washington and Colorado, Sabet was a trustee for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Educational Foundation, a 501(c)3. The following year when the laws passed, he and Kennedy became the front men for Project SAM. As recent as the 2014 tax year, Sabet is still a trustee to the DEA Educational Foundation. The DEA Educational Foundation receives significant funding from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), which like Project SAM’s partner the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (CADCA) receives significant funding from the Bayer USA Foundation (the first company to produce commercial heroin). NACDS is also the primary funder of the Ohio Pharmacists Association (the Ohio Board of Pharmacy is tasked with regulating and monitoring the medical marijuana program). Many of the doctors Project SAM has worked with receive funding from pharmaceutical companies.

Kennedy has been tapped by President Trump to sit on a national opiate task force alongside other notable anti-drug-but-pro-pharmaceutical politicians, not doctors, such as North Carolina governor Roy Cooper, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and former drug czar under President George W. Bush Beth Madras (who fought against eased access to Naloxone, the overdose rescue drug). The national task force falls under the leadership of one of the most anti-marijuana governors in the nation, New Jersey’s Chris Christie.

Trump initially named Pennsylvania’s Rep. Tom Marino to be his drug czar, but Marino was forced to decline the job in October 2017 after a Washington Post and 60 Minutes investigation revealed his role in allowing the drug industry to cripple the DEA’s program to prevent large amounts of pharmaceutical opiates from reaching the streets.

Members of Trump’s election campaign have involvement and possible investments in legal marijuana programs in eastern states, yet Trump has sent mixed messaging on the issue. While first saying he would cut the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which issues grants to CADCA recipients Project SAM works with, he reversed course this May, and decided to keep funding intact for his 2018 proposed budget, because, the opiate epidemic.

H.B. 523: Making the Sausage

“I don’t like the whole thing-- medical marijuana. It got passed because somebody was going to have a broader law,” Gov. Kasich told reporters during a March 2017 press conference about new pharmaceutical opiate limits. For years patients and advocates had made headlines in the state, many bravely telling their stories of use despite the law, but still Kasich couldn’t really ever get behind medical marijuana.

Kasich was not alone in his sentiment, throughout the entire process of H.B. 523, legislators on both sides of the aisle reaffirmed their skepticism about marijuana but said it was important to pass the bill before a constitutional amendment was passed through the ballot. With two registered petitioners at their heels; the warring groups of Marijuana Policy Project and Grassroots Ohioans, they all acknowledged the pressure was on.

Immediately after defeat in the 2015 election, ResponsibleOhio architect Ian James and fundraiser James Gould threatened to take a run at the 2016 ballot with a “free market plan”. After failed attempts to unite the community behind them, they turned to the legislature, who responded. They agreed to scrap their ballot initiative plans when Gould and RO’s attorney Chris Stock were named to the state’s legislative task force led by Republican speaker of the house Cliff Rosenberger and speaker pro-tempore Kirk Schuring, also a Republican. The task force’s goal was to explore the possibility of medical marijuana legislation, with no specific promises made, and deliver their recommendations by the end of March. In the senate, Republican Dave Burke and Democrat Kenny Yuko would hold a series of town halls around the state to hear from the public. Both sides of the legislature said their goal was to explore the issue and end up at the same place; a legislative solution.

Rosenberger says the message was clear to him that Ohioans rejected recreational marijuana but overwhelmingly wanted medical marijuana, and so reached out to Gould and Stock to represent the patient community on the task force. Gould defended his position on the force saying he had “lost a lot of money” and “we certainly paid our dues to get to this point.”

Rosenberger continually appealed to MPP and GRO throughout the process to drop their initiative efforts, but did not invite them specifically to participate in the task force alongside Gould and Stock. And, despite repeatedly referring to the task force as “diverse” it had no legitimate representatives to provide input for patients or caregivers and was comprised mostly of white men, with three white women.

Diversity, to the senators, referred to the diversity of opinions on marijuana; alongside Gould and Stock, the rest of the task force was mostly loaded full of skeptics with no medical background or relevant experience to speak of; the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Manufacturers Association, Ohio State Medical Association, Affiliated Construction Trades, Ohio Alliance of Recovery Providers, Buckeye Sheriffs’ Association and the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio. Many of these groups opposed ResponsibleOhio on the marijuana issue alone, not just the cultivation oligopoly.

As promised, the house delivered its recommendations by the end of March 2016. On March 31, the Ohio Ballot Board approved MPP’s ballot for circulation. On April 14, the house announced it would be introducing legislation to committee that would create a governor-appointed board, the Medical Marijuana Control Commission, that would ultimately govern the program. Their bill would create a slightly larger cultivation oligopoly than ResponsibleOhio (24 total grow licenses), would not allow smoking and determined what conditions qualified for use. Like opiates, doctors, patients and the amount of marijuana they obtained would be closely monitored and tracked.

The bill made it out of committee and on May 9, H.B. 523 was introduced. On May 10 it was approved by a vote of 71-26 and passed into the senate. Two weeks later, on May 25, the senate voted to approve it 67-29 and passed it to Governor Kasich’s desk. MPP announced their decision to drop their initiative a week before Governor Kasich signed the bill into law on June 8.

The new law determines about 20 conditions, not including addiction, that could be legally treated with marijuana. The legislation bans all home cultivation and is “smokeless”. The program will take two years to roll out, in the first year, the Department of Commerce would write the rules for licensing businesses, the state medical board would determine patient and doctor qualifications and registration, and the state pharmacy board would regulate dispensaries. A bipartisan committee would be formed to draft recommendations to those departments. Patients could still be fired from their jobs for legally using it medically.

MPP had determined the bill was “good enough” even before Kasich signed it and pulled out, moving their operations north to focus on full legalization in Michigan in 2018 instead.

Under H.B. 523, a 14-member advisory committee was established to advise the rulemaking process. By law, it was required to be comprised of two pharmacists, two physicians, a nurse, a researcher and representatives of law enforcement, employers, labor, patients, caregivers, agriculture, mental health and drug addiction treatment. It was required to have an even number of Republicans and Democrats.

Kasich and state legislators chose Ted Bibart to represent patients. Bibart is an attorney with Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, the firm currently representing ResponsibleOhio’s Ian James and James Gould’s holdings company, Green Light Acquisitions. The firm has represented GLA since its incorporation in 2015. Bibart is not a patient and has no relevant medical training or background. Many well-known and longtime patient-activists applied for this position and were denied in favor of Bibart. There are effectively no patients representing patients in the state’s process to provide them medicine.

While H.B. 523 took effect in September 2016, the state is currently in the process of writing regulations, with safe medical access slated for September 2018. And, despite there not really being an industry yet in Ohio to speak of, the hundreds of applicants going for just 24 licenses are already preparing to stake their claim to the industry.

Ohio’s Budding Cannabis Industry

“Pot’s now legal in Ohio, right? Not so fast!” starts an informational video circulated in October 2016 by the Ohio Cannabis Association, a trade association for the new industry that immediately began forming after the passage of H.B. 523. It went on to describe, in plain terms, that H.B. 523 had just been signed into law.

“All that mumbo jumbo aside, what it means is Ohio is the 25th state to finally allow patients to use proven cannabis treatments, legally.”

The video explained that it would take a full year to design the regulations and another year until the program would be fully operational.

“The state wants to do this the right way, it totally makes sense but it’s tough news for people suffering and needing treatment now and there’s no time for tinkering that will only hurt patients. Seriously… Now, before you get your feathers ruffled by images of corporate mish-mash paddy-wash give the dog a bone, you’ve gotta know we support patients just as much as every Ohio entrepreneur. Because guess what? If we are going to do it right, it takes all of us working together. So? What are you waiting for? Visit www.ohiocannabisassociation.com, and get into the game, have your voice heard and, most importantly, help us create a cannabis industry that helps all Ohioans.”

The men behind Ohio Cannabis Association (OCA) had a reason to be wary of activists and patients getting their “feathers ruffled” about the law, one of them had sat on the state’s medical marijuana task force. The group was formed by Ian James and James “Jimmy” Gould of ResponsibleOhio and Neil Clark, a well-known and well-connected Republican lobbyist. James, however, denies any specific involvement, though the connection was confirmed in an audio recording obtained from an anonymous source that held a private meeting with someone close to the organization.

“This is part of the silliness that goes along with the advocacy groups, people who see black helicopters and things that are not there. Brian Wright, as I recall, is the Ohio Cannabis Association group. I am busy building a holding company,” James said.

Wright, the executive director of OCA, is a local political consultant who has worked closely with the Ohio Medical Association. OCA’s primary offerings are memberships, free for patients (the only customers in the market) and paid memberships ranging from “advocate” at $25 a year to “industry leader” at $15,000 a year. While OCA does not define the differences in the various packages, it offers its broad services; connections to regulators and money.

“When you work with us, you will have exclusive access to information, resources and a network of Ohio and national business professionals that are leading the industry… Our organization is connected with every agency that you will encounter and can smooth the process and help cut through the red tape,” their website offers.

Ian James and James Gould are joined by 166 other investment groups submitting 185 total applications for just 24 cultivation licenses. Gould and James submitted one application as CannAscend. They are applying also for processing and dispensing licenses and have already proposed a $45 million facility in Wilmington. Chris Stock, the attorney for ResponsibleOhio, is applying for a license as Riviera Creek Holdings alongside Brian Kessler, also an RO investor. Stock has started a cannabis-specific insurance company under GLA, Arculius, to serve Ohio’s 24 license holders.

Gould is clear that he expects to get at least one of those licenses.

“It’s hard for me, waiting for other people to decide the fate of this industry in Ohio. We can get it done. We can have product in the stores by September [2018]. I would be not only amazed, but upset if we are not picked,” Gould told WCPO.

The non-refundable application fees were steep at $20,000 for a tier 1 license, $180,000 license fee if selected. One-hundred and nine total applications were received by the state for just 12 “Tier 1” grow licenses for facilities up to 25,000 square feet. For “Tier 2” grows of up to 3,000 square feet, of which there were 76 applications for just 12 licenses, a $2,000 non-refundable application fee would be charged to apply and $18,000 for the license if awarded.

Despite or perhaps because of those odds, there are a number of applicants already paying lobbyists to advocate for them in the state legislature, such as Green Investment Partners, which employs five full-time lobbyists. Ohio Green Systems, which is owned by Cleveland restaurateur and ResponsibleOhio investor Bobby George’s partner Fabio Salerno, employs five of its own.

Cresco Labs, represented in Ohio by director of Gov. Kasich’s presidential campaign PAC Kasich for America, Chris Schrimpf, employs two (including Schrimpf). Cresco is affiliated with Denver Releaf and has won both one of only 18 cultivation licenses awarded in nearby Illinois, and recently beat out hundreds of other applicants for one of just 12 total cultivation licenses awarded in neighboring Pennsylvania.

Green Thumb Industries, or GTI Ohio, is applying for two Tier 1 licenses and has two full time lobbyists. GTI is partnered with ResponsibleOhio funder Cheney Pruett’s DMP Investments and partially funded by Jim Beam whiskey heir Everett Kovler. They also received one of the 12 Pennsylvania licenses. GTI Ohio is represented by Tony Gardini, who also invested in RO, and is based in Illinois and has operations there, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Massachusetts, with eyes to Ohio, Arkansas and Florida. Pruett partially funded the medical marijuana campaign that sued a grassroots group in Arkansas to throw their medical marijuana initiative off the ballot in place of his own. Pruett also owns various holdings and realty companies, which include subsidiaries like “Next Vapor LLC” and “Pruett Financial Holdings Vapor LLC”.

Schottenstein Aphria has employed up to three lobbyists (now just one), and if they are awarded a license it would make them part of one of the largest legal cannabis corporations in the world. The Schottenstein family, the billionaire owners of American Eagle Outfitters, DSW and other popular retail brands have paired up with Canadian “licensed producer” Aphria. Licensed producers (LPs) are the only businesses in Canada legally allowed to grow marijuana for the medical market, and are likely to be the only legal providers of recreational marijuana when the nation legalizes next summer. Like other “LPs”, Aphria is publicly traded.

Several other applicants employ just one lobbyist, like BluScript LLC, whose primary applicant is the former Ohio Republican Party director who battled President Trump, Matt Borges. Buckeye Relief employs one lobbyist and is owned partly by Colorado’s Brian Vicente from Vicente Sederberg LLC. Vicente Sederberg worked closely with the Marijuana Policy Project to pass Colorado’s legalization in 2012. They also happen to be partial owners of a Florida licensee that opposes “Colorado-style legalization”.

One applicant, Oberson’s Nursery and Landscape, is owned by Fairfield city councilman Chad Oberson, who actually voted against allowing marijuana businesses to open up in his district, a decision he called “strictly business”. Other applicants hold licenses in other restrictive states, like Ohio Medical Solutions, which is affiliated with Vireo Health, which has licenses in New York and Minnesota.

The licensing fees would cover the costs to the state four times over. According to Missy Craddock of the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program in an interview with Cleveland.com, the high fees and financial requirements ensure the program attracts serious applicants who can afford to operate for months before turning a profit.”

License applications are under review by three for-profit industry firms that were selected by the state, ICann Consulting, B&B Grow Solutions of Illinois and Meade & Wing of Arizona. Each company is being paid $150,000 to score applications.

And, although there is very little opportunity for average Ohioans to start a business in the booming cannabis industry, the state has already hosted multiple business conferences, such as the one held by MPP in February of this year, where the Ohio Department of Commerce, the Pharmaceutical Board, Medical Board and a representative of the governor’s office were speakers.

But despite the veritable “Green Rush” now growing on the ground in Ohio, patients are still waiting, unsure if they will even get what they need when the state program is fully rolled out.

“The idea we are going to overregulate it to make it safer is a ridiculous concept. Medical marijuana in Ohio is never gonna work like this, they have to change the rules, so everybody can play,” said veteran and activist Michael Revercomb-Hickman. “We can get marijuana legalization the day we stop wanting to make money off it.”

What About the Kids?

As advocates around the nation have volunteered their time to make this needed change to drug policy, the financial opposition to medical marijuana has largely driven home the need for criminalization and over-regulation in the name of “protecting children”. But it wasn’t until the public realized marijuana could help prevent needless suffering in sick children, particularly treatment resistant epileptics, that legislation really started to spread. Legislators have responded with varying degrees of restrictive medical marijuana programs spearheaded by organizations with a financial interest in opposing medical cannabis.

While Governor Kasich and pharmaceutical-backed anti-drug groups like Project SAM have pushed for over regulation by asking, “But what about the kids?” so have the parents of catastrophically ill children. What about their kids? Should they have to continue to suffer, wait or break the law for relief that is safer than legal pharmaceutical alternatives?

Kristina Frate is an Ohio mother of a child with intractable epilepsy, Paige. Paige has suffered tens of thousands of seizures, up to 50 a day, her entire life. Frate was a director of Ohio Families CANN, a now defunct group of families of catastrophically ill children that have spent years educating Republican leadership in the state legislature and governor’s office about the endocannabinoid system and medical cannabis.

Frate appealed to Governor Kasich directly in a press conference from the steps of the capitol in Columbus in April 2015 after seeing him speak at an event and finding much of what he said resonated with her.

“Governor Kasich said, ‘I’m about doing the right thing.’ Quoting Governor Kasich, ‘I will not turn my back to those in need.” Citing Governor Kasich’s words, ‘I am in a job that can give hope, I am supposed to do that.” And, reciting Governor Kasich, ‘Forget politics, I have to do the right thing.’ Ohio Families CANN is asking our governor to follow through with his words. Obtaining lifesaving medicine for our children in Ohio should not be a political issue. It is an ethical, medical and public policy issue that must be addressed for our children and for future generations,” Frate pleaded.

Melissa Durkee has been advocating on behalf of her now 17-year-old son Noah since the Ohio Rights Group’s push nearly five years ago. Now she and her family are patiently waiting for the roll out of Ohio’s medical marijuana program. After the splintering of the ORG, Durkee joined Ohio Families CANN.

“Once we began researching its use, we couldn’t believe the evidence of efficacy for so many disorders. It is very difficult for people to believe that the side effects are so minimal while the potential for help is enormous, especially compared to what other medication is available for patients,” Melissa Durkee said.

Durkee’s son Noah has multiple diagnoses including Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and eating disorders associated with the OCD. Since the age of eight, Noah’s doctors and parents have had no other option but to cycle him through drug after drug, a total of 18, all of which had side effects and none of which worked to give him the relief he needs. Side effects included psychotic episodes, worsening of his symptoms, extreme sedation, stunted growth (for which he now injects himself with growth hormone), abdominal pain, depression, cognitive dulling, insomnia, headache, fatigue and extreme weight gain, which would trigger the eating disorders they were attempting to treat. After several ER visits, medication changes and side effects, Noah underwent genetic testing that showed he was in a class of patients considered resistant to conventional treatments.

The Durkees have legally tried cannabis with Noah in a western state where it was legal and found that not only did it work to stop his tics, but the effects were immediate. They want to be able to obtain it legally for him in Ohio, but acknowledge that under the current state law, the only way is to break federal law and bring it across state lines. He qualifies for Ohio’s medical marijuana program, but there will be no legal access for at least another year and there is no guarantee what he needs will even be available.

“Patients deserve access to this plant. We can only hope the program outlined by H.B. 523 and the commission controlling it will provide safe, reliable, affordable and sustainable medicine to people who desperately need it,” Durkee said.

The Durkees are worried that what Noah needs won’t be available. With only 24 initial growers, they will be at the mercy of whatever the license winners choose to grow, which may lean towards high-CBD or high-yielding plants because they would provide the best return on investment. She says her son needs a “certain cannabinoid profile”, higher in THC, that is inhalable, which she worries may be more difficult to purchase in Ohio. She says a lot of the problems stem from the fact that the state allowed ideological opponents of medical marijuana to make “their voices too well heard” but hopes the commission will consider the best interest of the patients and continue to remove barriers that prohibit access. Because Noah will legally be an adult next year, she says he would consider moving somewhere with better access if he needs to, despite H.B. 523.

Regardless of federal law or state policies using heavy regulations to capitalize on this plant with myriad uses, however, there are some hard and true facts about it. No one throughout human history has ever overdosed and died from it, it’s medical and industrial uses are endless and could change economies, but until it is completely decriminalized and de-scheduled, it’s true potential will not be realized, but instead locked away by greed. Until this happens, people will continue to suffer needlessly. Unfortunately, no drug is more addictive than money.

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