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“As a black medical cannabis patient, the sense of unfairness hurts deeply”

Maz Mills discusses the challenges facing black patients in an ‘all-white’ industry. 

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black medical cannabis patient
Black people are still overly stopped and searched by police

As a black medical cannabis patient, you can’t help feel a sense of hypocrisy that an all-white industry is doing what black people are persecuted for, writes Marie ‘Maz’ Mills, member of PLEA’s patient working group.

Marie Mills, black medical cannabis patient

Marie Mills is a member of PLEA

I have been a sufferer of fibromyalgia syndrome for 18 years. Recently, I was able to replace my medical cocktail of pregabalin, sertraline, amitriptyline, and propranolol with medical cannabis, having met some of the members of PLEA (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) in a Facebook group and then signing up to a private clinic in the UK.

The most notable part of my medical cannabis journey is the emotional rollercoaster of mentally getting my head around legal cannabis in the UK as a black patient.  

I am fully aware of the severe racial disparities that have clouded families of colour for as long as I can remember.  There is an even deeper association due to my Jamaican heritage, and it is undisputed that the most recognised association of cannabis lies with Rastafarianism on a global scale.  So, you can imagine my shock to find there are no black people as patients, or involved in this process or the emerging industry, and many still seem oblivious to access to legal cannabis in the UK.  

Racial divide

Why is this?  I feel as if I am sitting on a fence of racial divide. On the one side of the fence is an emerging cannabis industry that certainly could not have been started by black people, but their absence makes the industry seem as if it lacks validation.  

On the other side of the fence, black people are fully prosecuted, to the full extent of the law, more than any other race for possession of cannabis. Cannabis has been used as a weapon of destruction in the war against drugs and black people have been over persecuted for using it as medicine for as long as I have been alive.  

As a black patient you cannot help but feel a sense of hypocrisy now that an all-white industry is doing exactly what black people are persecuted for in exactly the same way. These feelings cannot be helped, they are just there, like a ball in your stomach. It haunts me every time I medicate, the sense of unfairness hurts very deeply indeed.

As a black patient this is an absolute brain fry. 

I think the deep-rooted negative association with cannabis makes it an extremely culturally sensitive issue which must be taken into consideration when dealing with black patients and their needs. 

I had no idea I would experience such a surge of emotion, involving tears, frustration, feelings of isolation, betrayal, guilt, relief, and deep confusion. I have worked in so many exciting industries and it has never occurred to me to look at things as ‘black’ and ‘white’ until legal cannabis, and it has caused a sense of trauma.  

The issues facing of people of colour

The medical cannabis industry must consider the culturally sensitive issues that will be faced by patients of colour and acknowledge the sense of trauma that legal cannabis may initiate unexpectedly.  

The racial disparities are still very present, black people are still overly stopped and searched, always asked if they have bud for sale by white people and may suffer from negative stigmas from their own culture. There are also trust issues that black people may be sold out to the police by this system. And in addition, the marketing and presentation of the industry seems like it is exclusively aimed at white people.

Culturally we are taught not to open up to white doctors on medical issues such as anxiety, depression, or mental health.  This is formed from a conditioned fear of being sectioned that is ingrained and this creates a barrier to access for people of colour.  

I am appealing for more people of colour to reach out to their doctors and to be open with them in order to reduce this cultural barrier to medical cannabis.  

People of colour may not have the noted history to qualify for the prescriptions. If the Project Twenty21 database is to reflect society’s cannabis patients to present the data for NHS access, people of colour must come forward and support this cause.

Lack of support

The industry needs to be equitable in light of the racial disparities suffered by people of colour.  There must be rehabilitation for people with cautions, warnings and convictions for possession of cannabis or who may have lost jobs for failing drugs tests for cannabis use.  They may have a range of transferable skills which could be invaluable to the industry.  A programme for patients to return to work and enter the industry is also a great initiative.

While medical cannabis has worked wonders for my day-to-day life, the toll on my mental health as a black patient and the unanticipated traumas that would arise from it is shocking.  

There is also zero support for anything I have been going through and it made me afraid to refer to more black people unless something is in development to cater to their needs.  But at the same time the relief is essential for medical users.  

Being able to identify and address the issues I’ve been facing will enable me to help both sides of the fence to work towards an equitable industry of the future.  I also look forward to a diverse database of users with all sorts of conditions in the united fight for our medication on the NHS.

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