CLEVELAND — Now that medical marijuana legalization has passed, the Ohio Rights Group is turning its attention toward educating medical professionals about the healing potential of cannabis.
Oberlin native John Pardee, group founder, kicked off that effort Monday night with a fundraiser at Town Hall restaurant in Cleveland where $4,500 was raised to send doctors, nurses and medical students to a Medical Cannabis Education Symposium in Columbus at the end of the month.
The goal is to fund 20 students, said Brandon Bashak, an Elyria resident and deputy director of North Central Ohio NORML, a group with a mission to shift public opinion on pot legalization.
Students from Northeast Ohio Medical University show off a check from the Ohio Rights Group Scholarship Foundation for the Medical Cannabis Education Symposium at the end of May. The money will be used to fund scholarships for medical professionals in need that want to attend the symposium.
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“We got a lot of progress here because we got a lot of like-minded people in the same room from different walks of life having all kinds of different perspectives on this issue to come together and forward this movement,” Bashak said.
The symposium, called Cannabis Expertise, is meant to take medical professionals who have little training and knowledge about medical marijuana and bring them up to speed in three days.
Pardee, wearing a marijuana leaf pin on his jacket, thanked those in attendance at the fundraiser, including Oberlin Councilman Kelley Singleton, who recently pushed for City Council’s support of medical marijuana.
“It was exciting to see that there’s so much local support for this issue, and it’s important for patients, and it’s important for families to make sure that this happens the right way,” Singleton said.
Cheryl McDaniel, CEO of Extra Step Assurance, which runs Cannabis Expertise, said all the hard work that’s been done on legalization won’t mean much if doctors and nurses are not educated.
“There’s a need, now that we’re a medical marijuana state, to get patients the access they need, and we can’t do that unless the medical professionals have that training,” McDaniel said.
Several cannabis activists shared their stories, including Eugene Monroe, a former defensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. He said he saw opioids given to players “on a daily basis.”
“Education again is so critical ... people who believe that medical marijuana is a dangerous drug, through education we can continually prove that those things are false,” Monroe said.
He said medical marijuana has the potential to save the lives of many young athletes who are given opiates to deal with injuries. While marijuana is falsely assumed to be a gateway drug toward harder drugs, Monroe said the more common path is that people go from pain pills to heroin.
Opiates bring their own side effects as well, including headaches and stomach pain and then patients have to take more medication for those ailments, he said. That doesn’t exist with medical marijuana, Monroe said.
State Sen. Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, who Pardee called “singularly responsible” for getting medical marijuana passed in the state, also spoke from personal experience.
Yuko detailed his own bout with chemotherapy after getting diagnosed with cancer. He’s been cancer-free since February.
Yuko has fought a long time for legalization, and now that it’s passed he’s trying to get more ailments included on the list of approved diagnoses that can be treated with medical marijuana.
He said having cancer “taught me a lesson of what so many families are going through.”
“You’re sick as a dog for weeks,” Yuko said. “We gotta do better. We’re the greatest nation in the world.”
He called medical marijuana a “game changer” for not only those with cancer, but for children with seizures and adults suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
Morgan Brunard, a nursing assistant in Lorain County, is one of the medical professionals hoping to get a scholarship from Ohio Rights Group. She didn’t want to say where she works because of the stigma associated with medical marijuana.
“We deal with people that are dying every day, we deal with cancer, we deal with pain a lot, and I want to see people not have to go through that if they don’t have to,” Brunard said.