‘This Trail Was Blazed by Patients’: An Interview With Cannabis Advocate Montel Williams
TV personality Montel Williams recently appeared at the Viridian Cannabis Investment Series, hosted by Viridian Capital Advisors at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, in New York City. Here, the actor and motivational speaker gave a keynote on cannabis and its medical uses, as well as his personal experience fighting multiple sclerosis (MS) and how cannabis helped him, not only in his struggle with pain, but also in his battle with opioid addiction.
Williams first got involved with cannabis 17 years ago, about a year after being diagnosed with MS. Ever since, he’s been vocal about his use of cannabis as a treatment, and has over time become an advocate for the medical cannabis cause. “It’s all about the patients,” he told me again and again during our conversation in an attempt to make sure every reader understands and remembers.
Leafly: Tell us about your history with cannabis.
Williams: Cannabis isn’t something new. It has all of a sudden become this burgeoning industry where people have jumped on board and gotten into because they see an incredible financial opportunity.
However, I want to make sure that those who are getting into this [industry] understand that this trail was blazed by patients; I repeat, patients. You go back to 2001, 2002, 2003 or 2004…The federal government was knocking down doors, dragging people out of their homes in wheelchairs, putting handcuffs on them, sending people away to jail for five, six, 10, 15 years, just because they were using marijuana medically.
Now, it’s 2017, and we have a whole group of people who want to get into this industry, but they are leaving the patients on the battlefield, because right now everybody’s all excited about the opportunity to make a lot of money on recreational marijuana. But let’s remember this started because of patients.
I think that this industry needs to understands that, even though it’s okay to move forward and attempt to have adult usage or a recreational platform, the main objective is to have people creating, processing, developing, and marketing cannabis products for patients, and not for the recreational user only.
Don’t you think that a double-bottom-line approach is possible? One that takes into account both profitability, as well as medical, societal, and social benefits?
Williams: For 17 years that’s all I’ve been talking about and trying to impress upon this industry. I’m glad I have an opportunity today to talk to people who are about to get into this, because I think many of them don’t understand the history of cannabis; they just see this as a green opportunity to make money.
But my point is: make all you want, but don’t leave us patients out!
When you talk about social and societal benefits, most people are talking about an opportunity for adults to use cannabis recreationally. I mean, in the end they’re really not talking about the social impact, for example, on the fact that we are the world’s largest consumer of opioids and we have been for the last 20 years. Now we know for a fact that we have an alternative that is truly something that should be scheduled as a Schedule II drug, because it does no harm.
So, again, I’m excited about the fact that there are so many people eager to get involved in the industry. Nonetheless, I would hope that they would look at it as an opportunity to be involved and able to move the science forward, so that, as long as we are doing things for one group [recreational users], we ensure that we do the right things for the main group [patients].
This is why I decided to get involved in this industry and created Lenitiv Laboratories, my full-spectrum cannabis company, which produces cannabis oils using 100 percent supercritical CO2 extractions with a two-stage distillation and a single-stage wash to treat conditions like MS and Crohn’s disease.
(Read more about Lenitiv Labs and its story here.)
Leafly: You mentioned the opioid epidemic. Can you explain how cannabinoids may help opioid addicts?
Williams: So we know that there is a physical addiction to opioids, but to date, there is no science anywhere on this planet that can show or prove a physical addiction to cannabinoids.
Interestingly, it has now been proven, in study after study after study, that cannabinoids are a good transitional drug for people who have been opioid-addicted.
We also know research [that’s] been done over the last 15 years has validated that cannabinoids are a good transitional drug for PTSD; not just warfare PTSD, but any kind of PTSD.
So, at Lenitiv Labs, we’re working on a spectrum that allows the patient to titrate themselves, understanding what their own modality is, but giving them options so that they don’t have to start off immediately taking something that’s going to whack them out. We can start them off slowly, and let them build up and figure out what their resistance levels are.
Which are the challenges you face, being that cannabis is illegal on a federal level?
Williams: Right now, I think the biggest challenge this entire industry is going to face is the fact that, whether we like it or not, we should liken ourselves to the hyperbaric technology industry.
Hyperbarics is a medication, but it’s one of the only non-FDA sanctioned. I mean, they are FDA approved, but they’re not FDA sanctioned; they’re not government controlled, and they police themselves as an industry.
Our biggest problem is going to be how we get all these people who are so desperate to line their pockets with green to understand that we all have to collectively come together as a movement before we can think about enriching ourselves individually, because as we act as individuals, you’ll see how the federal government approaches that over a couple next couple months.
We need to come together. That’s the hardest thing that needs to happen; the rest of it simple. I have no issues right now. Every single place we [Lenitiv Labs] have walked into and shown our products to, they’ve asked us to deliver our product.
This company has been in existence for seven months and we are about to have product in three different states in less than 90 days. We already have a product on the shelves right now in California, so I’m not having an issue that way. I would rather work at us all coming together, policing ourselves, so we understand that we can keep the fed off our backs.