I have worked in the medical marijuana industry since 2013 in both Arizona and New Mexico. I have been involved in all aspects of this industry including: licensing, dispensary, cultivation, compliance, and patient and community education. I have also been a patient myself. I have seen the medical marijuana industry grow and evolve over the last four years by leaps and bounds—from the Department of Justice memo [PDF] issued August 29, 2013, to many states passing medical and adult-use laws—but there is still a long way to go until all people in this country can have access to this wonderful plant.
It is well-known that cannabis has many healing properties. Cannabis can shrink tumors, relieve chronic pain, reduce seizures, alleviate anxiety, and help with migraines, PTSD, cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn's Disease and many more illnesses. The magic of this plant is in both the cannabinoids and the terpenes. The most common cannabinoids are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Several other cannabinoids have equally as much benefit as THC and CBD, such as CBN (Cannabinol) and CBG (Cannabigerol). Terpenes (the essential oils) are just as important and beneficial to patients as well. The smell of each strain is a little different and each terpene has a different profile and healing benefit. Cannabidiol (CBD) has received a lot of attention lately. Although CBD is very therapeutic and non-psychoactive, it should always be recommended that whole plant therapy is much more effective. You must have THC and CBD together to get the most benefit; this is called the entourage effect. CBD-only products are also made from hemp, not marijuana.
All humans (and everything that has a spinal cord) have an endocannabinoid system with CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors are primarily located in the brain and the gut. When ingested, the cannabinoids present in marijuana will attach themselves to these receptors and begin to do what they were meant to do. Several researchers and doctors believe that several illnesses, specifically auto-immune diseases, have surfaced because of a lack of these cannabinoids for the last 50 years. This is referred to as Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome. Since cannabis and hemp was eradicated from not only our diet, but also from animal diets and feeds, there may be a correlation in the increase of such diseases.
Medical marijuana states have seen lower opiate overdose rates and more and more people are choosing cannabis strictly from a harm reduction approach. Cannabis has the least amount of side effects and will do the least harm to a person. No one has EVER died from a marijuana overdose! It is definitely safer than alcohol, tobacco, and many prescription drugs. I believe that the marijuana industry is about healing people, whereas the pharmaceutical industry makes its profits from keeping people sick and they are lobbying hard against legalization of marijuana (either adult-use or medical). Prescription drugs, particularly opiates, are the true gateway drugs. The DARE program has even removed marijuana as being the gateway drug from their platform this past year.
One of the biggest challenges facing this industry is the banking system. Although medical marijuana dispensaries are a legal business in the state of Arizona, dispensaries still rely primarily on a “cash-only” system. Credit cards and debit cards are rarely accepted because of ties to the banking system. Since banks are federally insured, they are usually unwilling to work with us. I have worked with several dispensaries and all of them at one time or another have had their bank accounts closed. Another challenge is the lack of recognition of this industry by the federal government. Although a doctor certifies a patient in Arizona to use medical cannabis, that patient can't legally cross state lines with their medicine. That patient could then be arrested in another state for using their medicine that is legal in their home state. In Southern Arizona (Tucson and south), patients have the additional worry about US Border Patrol checkpoints. Since the US Border Patrol is a federal entity, medications are confiscated and patients could face prosecution, even though they are following state law.
Although Arizona passed the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) in 2010, patients did not have access to dispensaries until almost two years later. The first patient cards, however, were issued in April 201—this basically just protected the person if they were caught with marijuana. After a few months and pending lawsuits, the Department of Health Services issued new cards to all existing patients to allow them to cultivate their own medicine. There were many legislators who did not support the AMMA law and tried to get it overturned. After much litigation, the AMMA law was upheld and dispensaries were finally allowed to open. The first dispensary in the state did not open until December 1, 2012.
Arizona currently has over 108,000 people who have their MMJ (medical marijuana) patient card. This allows them to possess 2.5 ounces of cannabis every 14 calendar days. Medical cannabis is available in all forms for patients to include edibles, flower (to smoke), concentrates, oils, ointments, patches, sublingual tinctures and sprays.
I personally experience the benefits of cannabis every day, have dedicated my life to its advocacy, and can only hope that the future of medical marijuana continues to gain acceptance with further research, precision dosing, innovative cultivation techniques, and appropriate legislation.
Education is the key. Ignorance can no longer be accepted.
Amy St. John has four years experience in the medical marijuana industry and is currently the wholesale, cultivation, and compliance manager for Earth's Healing Dispensary in Tucson, Arizona. She has a BA in psychology and a Master's degree in counseling.
Suggested Citation: Amy St. John, An Insider's Perspective on Medical Marijuana, JURIST - Professional Commentary, Dec. 27, 2016, http://jurist.org/hotline/2016/12/an-insiders-perspetive-on-medical-marijuana.php.
This article was prepared for publication by Derek Luke, an Assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions or comments to him at