Integrated Wisdom

The Plight of Medical Marijuana Caregivers

They try to help those with legitimate needs, but the risks they face in doing so can be severe.

Marijuana, rather its THC and CBD ingredients, seem to be effective medicines. They’re reported to help with chronic pain and nausea, epileptic seizures, anxiety, Parkinson’s Disease,  PTSD, and IBD. There’s even some evidence that the drug’s pain reducing properties will help with the opioid epidemic — it can replace opioids that are highly addictive and can lead to death by overdosing.

With all this good news, 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form as of January of 2018. Very sensible, particularly since the drug — medical or recreational — has not been shown to have any negative side-effects. To top it off, as it becomes a fully legitimate and regulated industry, states can collect taxes on its sales.

So there shouldn’t be a problem, right? That’s far from the truth. Insurance won’t cover you, and the cost for treatment can be as high as $1,000 per month. Then there’s the federal government. Not only do they regard it as illegal, but they continue to classify it as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has no medical value and a high potential for abuse, just like heroin, cocaine, and meth.

So because the Feds don’t recognize marijuana’s medical benefits, they don’t trouble themselves with supporting institutions to do research. There have been no large scale clinical trials — most of the benefits linked to marijuana come from either anecdotal reports or small scale studies. It’s a classic Catch-22 — they won’t support research because they don’t take marijuana seriously, but they won’t take it seriously until it’s supported by research. Just by reclassifying it as a Schedule 2 drug would solve this dilemma, but that may not happen any time soon.

The situation is even more ridiculous for those in the business of producing medical and recreational marijuana. They have to be cash only businesses, and banks are reluctant to hold the money for these companies because their income comes from breaking federal laws. They might even face problems if they try to file their income taxes — they can’t claim the income, again because it comes from illegal sources, and even if they could, they cannot take the typical corporate deductions for their expenses, and so could face income tax rates that are 90% or more. Basically, care-givers keep their money in a safe and must retain enough of it to finally make tax payments when it’s recognized as legal by the Feds somewhere down the road.

Rachelle is a producer/care-giver, meaning she is licenced to grow and dispense medical marijuana, operating in a state that has a medical marijuana program. Both she and her partner Joseph started out as patients in 2009, one using marijuana to counter the effects of chemotherapy, and the other for chronic pain due to injuries. They were so enamored with its benefits that they decided to become care-givers, and by 2012 they moved to Rhode Island and obtained the necessary licensing to be growers and caregivers. Their patients include children and adults, and they are active in a coalition to help protect grower and patient rights. Here’s how she described what it’s like to be in this business:

“The risks are the same no matter what state you work in, because federally it is still illegal. Even if you follow all legal state guidelines you are always breaking federal law, and so they can take you to court whenever they like. Financials are a particularly tricky thing. We cannot deposit money associated with cannabis into a bank account. So we have to pay all of our expenses in cash. All the income gained from sales has to reinvested — according to our accountant this was the only way we could avoid trouble tax-wise.”

Despite these obstacles, they plodded on in their work, staying safely within the guidelines so they would be protected under Rhode Island law. But they weren’t protected at all — beginning in September, 2016, their real nightmare began.

Our house was raided by the RI State Police and a group known as the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Task Force. While the raid was in progress,  I tried to explain to the officers that we were licenced, and that we were under the limit with respect to the number of plants we were growing and the amount of marijuana we processed. But none of that mattered — I was told that regardless of state law, if they wanted to charge me, they could. According to the police, everything we were doing was illegal. I should point out that they never asked if we possessed patient or caregiver licenses — again, it didn’t matter. 

There were about 20 officers in all, a few from federal agencies but mostly RI state police. They came in military style, with tactical gear and guns drawn, and destroyed all the plants and product, trashing our home in the process. The sad part was the CBD we were processing was for an epileptic boy we had worked with for a few years. He went from wearing a helmet and missing 2-3 days of school a week to riding dirt bikes and living a normal kid life. He still had a couple of seizures a year but nothing like it was. His quality of life had drastically improved, as did his family’s. 

It was April 2017 before we were officially charged, and after a year and half of delays by the state we finally reached a deal in February, 2018, accepting a two year probation. We considered skipping the deal and going to trial, but that just didn’t make any sense. Even if we won the case, it wouldn’t bring back the medicine, the money, or the time that had already been taken from us, not to mention the additional legal fees we would have faced. 

After their ordeal, Rachelle and Joseph have moved on, focusing on the future and trying to re-build. They have decided to relocate their business to Massachusetts, a state that has a better and more equitable system in place. Massachusetts, unlike Rhode Island, seems geared to supporting small growers and care-givers, and won’t just cater to large companies that might not produce a high quality product. (Excuse the pun.) Their prices will also be much higher than craft producers — more than double for some products.

The situation will likely improve, and be less dangerous, for Rachelle and her partner. However, the reality is we won’t have a true understanding of the benefits of marijuana until legislative changes allow for more in-depth research. So the next step to stopping this craziness is up to the Federal government.

By the way, shortly after the raid, the child who suffered from epilepsy moved with his family to Colorado, He is now assured of  getting a steady flow of medical marijuana, and has a shot at a normal life. Unless, of course, the Feds raid his new caregiver.

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