The COVID-19 pandemic and surrounding crises have impacted virtually every industry all over the world, and cannabis is no exception. Though cannabis businesses, much like liquor, have been deemed essential, there are myriad issues facing producers and users at this time – and they may ultimately impact the long journey to full legalization.
As 2020 is officially the Year of the Nurse, we’re joined today by registered nurse Ken Wolski. Ken has been practicing since 1976, was on the front lines of the AIDS crisis, and transitioned into medical marijuana advocacy in the 1990s. He ran for US Senate in New Jersey representing the Green Party in 2012, and is now Executive Director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey.
In today’s podcast, we discuss how this crisis has changed cannabis supply chains, program development, patient experiences, and more, as well as the safety of cannabis and CBD consumption during this pandemic.
- How access to medication has changed for cannabis patients since the onset of the crisis.
- The unique issues facing cannabis patients when hospitalized.
- Why dispensaries are doing okay right now – and the lasting impacts on cannabis and other surrounding industries.
- How to safely consume cannabis products in the era of social distancing.
- Why Ken believes this moment will lead to further reforms and potentially change the course of modern marijuana laws.
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Welcome to The Green Repeal, the podcast that helps marketing and advertising experts navigate the business world of cannabis as it marches towards federal legalization. Join me, Rick Kiley, and my co-host, Jeff Boedges, as we interview economists, historians, entrepreneurs, legal experts, and more. Each episode will take you behind the green and help you and the companies you serve successfully overcome the challenges of marketing a product in a heavily restricted industry. This is your guide to cannabis marketing and advertising. This is The Green Repeal.
Rick Kiley: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to The Green Repeal. This episode marks our first recorded in our COVID-adjusted world. So, if you hear a different vocal tone, like if I suddenly sound like Steve Urkel, that could be the reason why. That said, we’ve decided to pivot with the moment and find a few guests who can speak to how the cannabis world is being affected by coronavirus and so our next few guests will be covering the subject.
First up today is Ken Wolski, whose cannabis knowledge runs far and deep. Ken has a very diverse background. He’s been helping people for years as a registered nurse and has been advocating for the legalization of marijuana throughout his career before becoming a full-time advocate in 2015. In the interview, he reminds us appropriately so that 2020 is, in fact, the year of the nurse and talks about data he’s seen that shows that CBD may actually shorten the duration of a coronavirus infection. It’s an interesting conversation, and we hope you enjoy it.
Rick Kiley: Today we’re excited to welcome Ken Wolski. Ken is a medical cannabis activist from New Jersey and in 2012 he ran for the US Senate as a nominee of the Green Party. Residing in Trenton, Ken is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey and has been working full-time as an advocate for marijuana legalization since 2015. He has a BA in Philosophy from Rutgers, an Associate of Applied Science from Mercer County Community College, and he also has a Master’s in Public Administration from Rutgers. We’re excited to have you here, Ken. We’ve done a little bit of an intro but hoping you could tell us a little bit more about yourself before we jump in.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. And so, Ken, you have a very colorful history beyond your current role and your degrees. Maybe you’d tell us a little bit more about yourself and share some of the more interesting posts that you’ve held.
Ken Wolski: Well, thank you so much, Jeff and Rick. One of the things that I’m really proud of is being a nurse. I’ve been an RN, registered nurse, since 1976, Jeff and Rick, and I had 44 years now. I have worked in psychiatric hospitals. I was an intensive care unit and coronary care unit nurse. I worked for the New Jersey Department of Corrections in various capacities for 22 years and I was also a public health nurse for the City of Trenton. So, I’m very proud to be a nurse. We are the most trusted profession in the nation year-after-year according to Gallup polls, and we are supportive, non-judgmental patient advocates. So, that’s kind of what I liked most about it. We really support our patients. We will not make judgments about their health care choices, try to explain to them the potential consequences of their health care choices, but we do support them and we will advocate for them whether it means going to the head nurse, the head doctor or New Jersey Legislature or the halls of Congress. And 2020 is the year of nurse incidentally so I’m very, very proud to be a part of that.
Jeff Boedges: I couldn’t agree more. You guys really are the front line and I’ve had more than my share of nurses this year and I will say that they are the real engine that makes the medical apparatus in this country go. So, to you and to all of your fellow front liners, I think Rick and I would be remiss if we didn’t say thank you.
Rick Kiley: Hear, hear. Absolutely.
Ken Wolski: Thank you, gentlemen. Even though I’m not on the front line now, I’m working from my home office for the past 14 years since I retired from the state government. I sort of put in my dues with the AIDS crisis, was very involved with taking care of AIDS patients when I was an ICU nurse in Center City, Philly. And then when I was working for the Department of Corrections, the AIDS crisis started there, and they actually appointed me as an infection control nurse. So, I was instrumental in the infection control policies throughout the entire state of New Jersey for their Department of Corrections.
Jeff Boedges: So, this isn’t your first pandemic.
Ken Wolski: No.
Rick Kiley: That’s amazing. Wow. And so, how then did you, from nursing, make this transition into advocating for medical marijuana and then I guess get involved with the New Jersey Coalition for medical marijuana?
Ken Wolski: Well, in 1993, I learned about the discovery of part of the endocannabinoid system, the scientific basis for how marijuana actually works in the body, and why it’s so useful for so many different diseases and symptoms and conditions. And they had just discovered some of the receptors for the components of marijuana, the cannabinoids, that were on the immune system. And I thought this was very exciting. There were no conferences in the United States about this at the time so I flew to Amsterdam to learn about this scientific discovery. And it was an interesting conference but I learned some things about the endocannabinoid system, but probably the most interesting thing for me was that I met this gentleman by the name of James Burton. Mr. Burton was a glaucoma patient and he was going blind from glaucoma and he started using marijuana in his 30s to control his glaucoma with the approval of his doctor. The government found it growing on his farm. They arrested him. They threw him in jail for a year. And while he was in jail, the government confiscated his home and his farm for growing that marijuana to try to save his vision.
Rick Kiley: What year was this about?
Ken Wolski: This was 1993 when it happened.
Rick Kiley: Wow.
Ken Wolski: And so, to me, it was a terrible social injustice and I started researching the issue and then I’ve gone for a painfully long period of time. In 2001, I brought my research to the New Jersey State Nurses Association and in 2002, they endorsed medical marijuana, and they became very strong advocates for medical marijuana. And so, I was very proud of that. And then the next year I met Jim Miller. He was a local advocate who had been pushing his wife Cheryl’s wheelchair around the state of New Jersey for 10 years. And, you know, trying to explain that his wife who had multiple sclerosis, marijuana was the only medicine that really eased her muscle spasms. So, when Jim and I met, we formed the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey and then we registered in the state of New Jersey. We now have a board of directors, 11 members of the board of directors for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization. And in 2005, we were instrumental in getting a bill introduced into the New Jersey Legislature for medical marijuana and five years later, you know, instrumental in getting that bill passed into law.
So, that’s our organization. We were the first organization solely dedicated to medical marijuana in New Jersey, although we weren’t obviously the only organization that was supporting and working for it. And then, unfortunately, for eight years of the Christie administration right after 2010, there were very strong delays. He didn’t believe in the program. He thought it was just a front for legalization. And there were a lot of delays and obstructions really into the implementation, effective implementation of the medical marijuana. But he did start it.
Jeff Boedges: You might say he closed the bridge to medical marijuana.
Rick Kiley: Wow.
Ken Wolski: Yeah. True.
Jeff Boedges: Sorry. It was there.
Rick Kiley: It’s fine. You got to make a Chris Christie joke. They’re fun. I just wonder if our international audience will get the reference.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah.
Ken Wolski: Yeah. They’re talking about Governor Christie was involved in a scheme to close the George Washington Bridge to punish one of the mayors in Fort Lee for not endorsing him in his re-election.
Rick Kiley: I think maybe he was also growing some marijuana in his backyard too and Chris Christie just wanted to make an example out of him. You know, all these things are possible.
Ken Wolski: Possible.
Rick Kiley: So, we’ve formed a New Jersey Coalition for Medical Marijuana. Now, that started…
Ken Wolski: 2003.
Rick Kiley: 2003. So, 17 years in, and you’ve obviously been involved in this for a long time. Can you maybe talk to us a little bit about how medical marijuana has been affected by what’s going on in this COVID augmented world, that reality that we’re living in? Are patients able to get access to the medicine that they need? Is it making the supply chain more challenging? What’s it doing to the development of that program? And I’m assuming you’re mostly familiar with what’s going on in New Jersey, but feel free to talk about any of the other states that you know.
Ken Wolski: Thank you. Well, the response to the coronavirus pandemic has really affected nearly everything in the country. So, not to have it affect the medical marijuana world is not at all surprising. One of the things that it really did was increase demand. I mean, with so many people being out of work now because of the enforced shutdown and the profound effect this has had on both personal and national economy, it coupled with the social isolation so that people can’t even get together with their friends to talk about this and to try to support one another. You know, it really had a profound increase in anxiety in the country. So, this anxiety really has led to a great demand and increase in demand for marijuana.
Rick Kiley: When you say demand, are you talking about more existing patients consuming more? Are you talking about new patients calling their doctor and saying, “Hey, I’m stuck inside, I’m really anxious about what’s going on with the world,” and so there are new patients trying to gain access? Is it both?
Ken Wolski: Yes, I believe it’s both. I believe that it’s not only old patients using more cannabis, but also last month, there were over 4,000 new patients admitted to New Jersey’s Medical Marijuana Program. So, this was the single month that had the biggest gain in patients here in New Jersey. And people are also they’re hoarding the drug.
Jeff Boedges: Pantry loading.
Ken Wolski: Pantry loading, right. What they’re doing with toilet paper and some other commodities.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Ken Wolski: Well, it is considered essential.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Ken Wolski: It’s been determined to be an essential business by the State of New Jersey.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, liquor stores have been too so that’s interesting.
Ken Wolski: And so, people see it as an essential thing that they really just do not want to see themselves doing without. As we used to say back in the 70s, I think it was, dope will get you through times with no money better than money will get you through times with no dope.
Jeff Boedges: That’s now a t-shirt. You’re in for 10%.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. That’s the title of this episode, I think. That’s a great line. It’s interesting, I wonder and we didn’t plan for this question, but people are going through some economic hard times and I know that medical insurance isn’t covering medical cannabis in any way. Do you happen to know if there’s any potential change on the horizon for the medical cannabis world as a result of this increased demand and whether or not the insurance companies will ever get involved? Is that changing at all? Or are people just stretching their dollars and prioritizing this? It’s like food, toilet paper, weed, and then lawn care?
Jeff Boedges: Yeah.
Ken Wolski: I haven’t seen any indication that the insurance companies are going to take over covering medical marijuana the way they do other physician-recommended drugs. I mean, they’re very strong arguments for doing so. It would save the insurance company’s money if they did because when the insurance companies when a patient takes medical marijuana for one condition, he oftentimes finds it treating one or more conditions that he also has, no morbid conditions as it were. So, it really is a safe and effective way to treat multiple conditions with the same drugs. So, insurance companies could save a lot of money by allowing, by covering medical marijuana, and by encouraging its use as opposed to the use of really expensive pharmaceutical drugs.
Jeff Boedges: Is that still part of the Federal prohibition though? I mean, it would be hard for a company that was a national company to pay for something that’s only legal on a state level. Is that your interpretation of why they don’t take it over? Or is it just stigma?
Ken Wolski: Well, probably both. I think that the Federal prohibition is probably one of the strongest things. Yes. Stigma is also attached to it. There’s a few little cracks being made here in New Jersey. There was a workman’s comp case where the judge decided that workman’s compensation had to reimburse an employee who was injured on the job for his use of medical marijuana. And workman’s comp apparently is not a national thing apparently. That is a state-by-state.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. State-by-state.
Jeff Boedges: We know it very well.
Ken Wolski: So, there are some cracks in the wall of stigma and forbidding reimbursement for this necessary medicine.
Jeff Boedges: Okay. That makes sense. And so, back to the supply chain, though, I mean, we’re not going to be able to get bacon here in about two weeks because all the processing plants are being closed. Are we having the same types of issues in the cannabis supply chain? Have you heard about anything like that?
Ken Wolski: Well, here in New Jersey, we have nine alternative treatment centers serving 9 million people in New Jersey, nine alternative treatment centers. Well, 9 million people in the state of New Jersey. There are 75,000 patients that are served by these nine alternative treatment centers. Nine places where patients can go to legally purchase marijuana in the state of New Jersey and all of these alternative treatment centers are vertically integrated, which means that they grow their own, they process their own, and they dispense their own. So, their growing situation could be either the same building that they’re dispensing it in or right across the parking lot from where they’re dispensing it. So, we haven’t seen supply chain problems in that sense. Certainly, we’ve seen various supply problems. The patient demand and the increased social isolation makes it difficult, well, makes it impossible for patients to go, to crowd into an alternative treatment center, and stand in line and get their medicine.
Now, they have to basically go and make an appointment to go and either have curbside pickup or be called into the alternative treatment center one-by-one to pick up their medicine. So, this certainly slows things down and it interrupts the ability of patients to get the medicine that they need. So, we’re seeing that and we’ve always seen problems with the availability of particular strains. Now, patients often find that it’s really only a particular strain of marijuana that really helps with their condition or their combination of conditions. And when they go back to the alternative treatment center to get more of this particular strain, they find it’s either out and the alternative treatment center doesn’t have it or where they have severe limitations on the amount that they can buy. Maybe an eighth of an ounce or a quarter of an ounce. So, in those senses, we are seeing some types of supply chain issues, and certainly in New Jersey. And I’m really not really too familiar with how it’s working in the rest of the country.
You know, in the rest of the country, there is home cultivation in 18, well, 17 states and the District of Columbia, so home cultivation really mitigates some of the strain on the supply chain if patients can grow their own. Most of the states allow, I’d say an average of six plants that allow people to grow them and it’s a very useful method of assuring that people not only have an adequate supply of the strain that they really need available to them and it also, of course, reduces the costs here in New Jersey. We have some of the most expensive medical marijuana in the country at between $400 and $500 an ounce unless you qualify for some discounts. So, that really cuts into a person’s budget when you’re paying that amount for an ounce of marijuana.
Jeff Boedges: And do you think, I mean, it’s my conjecture that with everybody, let’s just say having a little bit more time around the house than normal, coupled with the fact that there may be some pricing issues, some supply chain issues that home cultivation done legally or even let’s just say grayishly or illegal, that there’ll be a jump in home cultivation. Do you think we’ll see that?
Ken Wolski: Well, yes, I believe so. Certainly, the illegal home cultivation, the penalties for that in New Jersey, at least are draconian. I mean, we have people growing a dozen plants who have faced over a decade in prison for doing so. Like I told you about Mr. Burton, sometimes they confiscate your property for growing illegally. So, really draconian penalties for home cultivation, and it’s just a very, very dangerous kind of thing to be engaged in with the penalties. And the funny thing is the original bill that we had, gentlemen, going through the legislature, I told you it was in the legislature in New Jersey for five years, that was a model bill from a national organization called the Marijuana Policy Project. And that bill had home cultivation in it. That bill allowed for New Jersey patients to grow six points and that went through the – it passed in the New Jersey Senate. It was April of 2009 but a couple of months later, before it went to the assembly, it was taken out of the bill and they never really explained why they took it out. They think that the governor at the time didn’t want it in the bill. So, home cultivation was removed really at the last minute from New Jersey’s bill and we’ve been struggling without it.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah, I imagine. It’s like saying, “You know what, we’re not going to allow homebrewing anymore. I don’t want my neighbor selling beer out of his garage.”
Ken Wolski: Yeah. It’s a good analogy really. I mean, it’s very much like the home brewing. Homebrewing doesn’t really impact that. I mean, it certainly doesn’t impact the industry. The cannabis industry is not opposed to home cultivation. They know it’s probably less than 10% of people are going to be doing this.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. And cultivating, frankly, I mean, look, I’m just saying, I know some guys in college. I never did anything like this but home cultivating is actually pretty hard, maybe harder than actually making beer. So, it’s one of those things like I could see people being excited about it for a minute, but then when they get out and try it like, “Oh, wait, I think I’d rather just drive down the road.” So, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a huge issue if and when they decide to legalize it.
Rick Kiley: All right. Well, good conversation. I’m curious moving on just sort of tapping more in your medical background now. We know that what’s going on with COVID and it tends to attack the lungs quite a bit. Is there any guidance on people who are consuming this for medical reasons? Should they be adjusting their intake accordingly right now like would you recommend someone who is a medical patient using marijuana to stay away from the vape pen, to stay away from smoking flower to focus on other forms of ingestibles or lozenges or something like that?
Ken Wolski: Well, that’s a good question and I must say that there’s a difference of opinion about this. So, I am also a spokesman for Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. Doctors for Cannabis Regulation is the first physician’s organization that is dedicated to the legalization and effective regulation of marijuana. They’re an excellent organization. I think the world of them. They have a number of physicians throughout the country join them. They were started by Dr. David Nathan right here in Princeton, a psychiatrist, and they do great work. Their recommendation is that patients are more at risk of being infected by smoking and vaping cannabis or any substance, really. So, they take what I think might be an overly cautious approach and say that you’re safer with – well, they also say some things that are not controversial. One is that sharing of joints, pipes, vape pens increases the risk of transmission as the frequent hand-to-mouth motions required by smoking and vaping. So, that’s something to take into consideration.
But the vaping with additives and solvents may have direct toxicity on the lungs and the immune system. So, that’s their take on it. I think it really depends personally on the individual and what stage, what type of symptoms the patient is having, whether or not they need to go and search for an alternate means of ingestion or administration of cannabis. My understanding about the COVID-19 epidemic is that 80% of the patients who have this infection are either completely asymptomatic or they have only mild symptoms. And so, you may say that if you’re completely asymptomatic, is there any reason to change your method of administration even if you have this, if you’re smoking and if you have the infection. I’m not so sure that it’s proven that that’s an important thing to do. Well, anyway, but if you are considering it, I mean, there are different methods of administration or another oral. There’s obviously the brownies that are quite famous. Now, it’s been just about anything you can find, capsules and tinctures, drinkable forms of marijuana.
And the only thing to really be aware of is that the onset of action is different in oral forms as opposed to inhale forms. Inhaled, the onset takes place within minutes and with oral forms it has to pass through the stomach and this could be 30 minutes, an hour or more before you really feel the effects of the marijuana for the oral preparation. And then the duration of action is different. The effects last maybe an hour or two with inhaled and it could last six to eight hours with edible ones. One of the problems with edibles is that people don’t feel the effects for 30, 45 minutes so they double the dosage and then when it finally does take effect, then they feel that they’ve had too much and they’re uncomfortably high and maybe they just have to take a nap or something when they weren’t planning to do that. So, these are things to take into consideration. The good news is that even an overdose of marijuana is it never cause death in anyone and really an overdose is considered a good night’s sleep by many patients.
Jeff Boedges: It’s funny. I’ve also heard some things that are counterintuitive that in some people that actually that the inhalation of the flower can calm the lungs to a degree. I’m sure that’s a controversial position but have you heard anything about that?
Ken Wolski: Well, absolutely. Okay. Let’s agree for one thing that there are carcinogenic agents in smoke. So, when you’re inhaling smoke, you’re inhaling some carcinogens and the federal government when they found out that there are carcinogenic agents in tobacco smoke, they funded a study to find out how many cases of cancer this was causing in the American population among heavy long-term users. And Dr. Donald Tashkin did this study at University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied the people who had long-term heavy use of marijuana and they expected to find it cause cancer in these patients and the results of his study were that even having long-term use of marijuana did not cause the type of cancers that are associated with smoking, the head and neck cancers and the cancer of the lung did not cause it, and neither did it cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other very serious chronic condition that’s often caused by smoking.
The only real lung condition or respiratory condition that was caused by smoking was bronchitis and the bronchitis cleared up after the patients or the people stopped smoking. This was pretty remarkable. It led me to wonder whether or not there are not some type of pneumo protective agents in the marijuana smoke. We know, for example, the government has a patent on the neuroprotective elements of marijuana and so the neuroprotective that it protects neurons, that’s well established, but there may also be some way that it protects the lungs. Now, as a matter of fact, marijuana had been used with asthma patients for generations, in certain countries like Jamaica and other countries because it seemed to work. Now, I’m a nurse and for 17 years, the first 17 years of my nursing career, I warn patients to avoid any type of smoke if they were asthma patients because I’ve seen it lead to crisis, asthmatic attacks that were medical emergencies but then I started hearing from asthma patients who were telling me, “No. As this smoking marijuana was the only thing that really helped my asthma.”
And then I saw a study that said, well, the bronco dilating effects of the marijuana smoke and the reduction of anxiety really counteract it, the irritant effects of this smoke. So, it really could help some asthma patients. In fact, I submitted a petition to the Department of Health to allow asthma be a qualifying condition for marijuana therapy in New Jersey, but that was one of the few conditions that they rejected. They didn’t have enough proof of that.
Rick Kiley: Interesting.
Jeff Boedges: So, can we talk about what do you think some of the other indications of COVID might be something that would benefit treatment from cannabis? So, we talked a little bit about stress and that’s sort of the obvious one, I think, if we had 4,000 new people signed up for their medical card in New Jersey last month, and most of them are attributable to basically self-medicating for stress. Do you think there are other indications, again, that cannabis may be appropriate for people suffering from the effects of COVID?
Ken Wolski: Suffering from the effects of COVID? Well, I mean, it is a respiratory disease. So, in the advanced stages of COVID, I mean, if you’re in a hospital, if you’re an intensive care unit, and you’re on a respirator, you also have any other preexisting conditions. So, if you happen to be a seizure patient, for example, and you have your seizures under control, and suddenly you have to go into a hospital because of a respiratory problem, it’s still very important for you to maintain that kind of seizure control. So, you need to an, obviously, you can’t smoke marijuana in a hospital or you can’t inhale marijuana, but you can continue with your oral administration of cannabis products and you should. However, hospitals have a problem with this. Oftentimes, hospitals have a problem with they will not allow any type of medication to be administered.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. They have to administer everything.
Ken Wolski: Unless it comes from their pharmacy. Yeah. So, some hospitals do make some allowances, but that’s not generally the case.
Jeff Boedges: I think still the vast majority of people suffering from it never go to the hospital and I’m just wondering things like, I’ve heard loss of taste, and I’ve certainly heard about nausea and chronic pain. Those things seem to me to be kind of like ideal indications for being treated by cannabis and I haven’t heard anybody talking about it. So, I don’t know if it’s even been tried or tested.
Ken Wolski: Yeah. Well, again, I think it really depends on the level of symptoms that the patient is having. Well, I can tell you that chronic pain is the number one reason why people use marijuana in the country. This is the number one reason. It really is so much more effective. It’s safer. It’s more effective and has fewer negative side effects than the prescription analgesics as well as non-prescription analgesics. People think that Tylenol is safe because it’s an over-the-counter medicine that’s FDA approved but the main ingredient in Tylenol is acetaminophen and acetaminophen is a leading cause of liver damage, of liver failure in the United States. So, certainly, marijuana is very effective in terms of pain management. And its effect on nausea and vomiting, for example is one of the first reasons, I mean, with patients. Nurses back in the 1960s would allow their patients on the oncology floors of big-city hospitals to smoke marijuana just to overcome the nausea and vomiting that their patients were experiencing with the chemotherapy. It was so effective that they would allow this to happen.
One of the reasons that marijuana really became legal medically throughout the country when it became known in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1980s and early 1990s, that marijuana was keeping AIDS patients alive longer than AIDS patients who did not use marijuana. And that was because it was helping these AIDS patients to overcome the wasting syndrome, the nausea and vomiting that was leading to such a profound weight loss in these patients that left them vulnerable to the pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and other types of opportunistic infections that were actually killing the AIDS patients. So, it wasn’t AIDS that killed them. It was the opportunistic infections and it was the wasting syndrome that killed the people. But with the people who use marijuana, they overcame those problems. They had a more robust immune system because they had a more robust body that helped them to stay alive. And so, as this became well known in the Bay Area, first they passed, I think was Proposition P, and then they passed the 215 in 1996, that legalized marijuana in California. That was the start of the medical marijuana program because it seemed to be so effective for weight loss, and nausea and vomiting.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. I think it’s going to be really interesting to see because I’m sure we’ll get data. It’ll be after the fact, of course, and I don’t know how many more COVID-style pandemics we’ll have to deal with in our lifetime, and I certainly hope none, but again, that’s just a suspicion of mine that this would be good because I’ve certainly have a number of friends in the New York and New Jersey area who have been infected and they have complained about the pain and about the inability to eat for the better part of two weeks. I feel like that I’m like, “Dude, you need to get yourself a joint. You know, try it out, see if it helps.” Well, as I said, I think we’ll unfortunately have to wait until it’s passed and I think, Rick, we’re going to need to get like a live audience so we can have people call in, share their experiences.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Ken Wolski: That would be useful to hear from actual patients. I haven’t heard that much on through the grapevine as you have, Jeff, but those are very interesting observations the kind of experiences patients are actually having who have been infected with COVID.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. I mean, they’re laying in bathtubs full of hot water to try and get rid of the ache. And I’m just like, “Wow.” We’ve all had the flu, and you have those aches. I suffer terribly from aches when I get the flu, but that’s two days or three days. I can’t imagine having to deal with that for two weeks. I think I’d probably go a little insane. Yeah. Anyway, just an idea. Rick, go ahead. Sorry.
Rick Kiley: No. I just wanted to kind of get back to sort of the business side of things a little bit. We talked a little bit about the pantry loading and you mentioned that a lot of that actually, there was a big huge increase in demand. Can I make the assumption there that the dispensaries, at least the medical dispensaries in New Jersey, they’re all doing fine right now? They’re not really seeing any hit to the economics of their business at this moment?
Ken Wolski: Yeah. Certainly, that’s my understanding. They’re doing fine as far as I know. Now, some of them have been hit on occasion with closures because of individual employees at the alternative treatment centers getting sick. And so, there have been some closures for several days. And again, this affects patients more than anything, I think. They want to go and like I said, there’s only nine places that people can buy it. So, people may be driving an hour and they get to the place and they find out that it’s closed. That’s very inconvenient for the patients. I have not heard of any real problems with the alternative treatment centers opening. As I said, they’re essential businesses. So, they’re open and they’re serving the public and they’re making money and continuing to make money.
Rick Kiley: Are they having any challenges, meaning keeping up with demand, like some of the now millions of people that are in unemployment, maybe start thinking about a new career, getting some jobs over there? Like I’m wondering and it’s partly joking, but partly serious question like, are they hiring? You know, I’m curious.
Ken Wolski: I wouldn’t be surprised. Yeah. So, they’ve instituted a couple of things like I said, the curbside pickup is new for them. And let’s see, well, the Department of Health allowed now for twice the number of caregivers that is to say two caregivers per patient to go and get the marijuana from the alternative treatment centers. So, that would be a little better. But why every patient isn’t allowed to be a caregiver is another question. Why can’t any patient just call into the dispensary and say Patient X is going to come and pick up my medicine for me and allow that. A lot of patients are just afraid to go to these alternative treatment centers too because they don’t want to be exposed themselves. They may have weakened systems themselves and they don’t want to have the risk of going there. You know, one of the things that could really, really, oh, my other thought was home delivery. Governor Murphy signed a bill, the Jake Honig Law, that really expanded medical marijuana program in New Jersey, but unfortunately, a lot of the provisions have not yet taken effect yet.
For example, home delivery that was supposed to be that was in the bill. That was approved. The bill took effect immediately in July of 2019 that allow for home delivery, so patients wouldn’t have to leave the comfort of their home to get the medicine. They could just call in their order and either a private company would deliver that marijuana to the patient or an employee if the alternative treatment center could just deliver that marijuana to the patient. But that hasn’t taken place yet. So, we don’t have one delivery in New Jersey yet. That’s an important thing to take into consideration. One of the other things that was allowed under the Jake Honig Law was the concept of institutional caregiver. Now, an institutional caregiver is an employee of a healthcare organization like a hospital or a nursing home or a group home, who would register with the Department of Health and be the caregiver for all of the patients in that institution.
So, that person could go and pick up the marijuana from the alternative treatment center and bring it back to those patients in the hospital, in a nursing home, in the group home, in the hospice, and whatever. This really has the basis for exploding the patient population, and really improving care among institutionalized patients in New Jersey, and while reducing the costs by having a more stable institutional population by granting them access to the benefits of medical cannabis. But unfortunately, we haven’t yet seen the institutional caregivers take place and hospitals are fighting that. They say, “Oh no. We get money from the federal government and we can’t risk our funding, our federal funding by providing substance that is considered to be illegal by the federal government. But nowhere has the federal government cracked down on any hospital or college or school zone or school district rather, that has permitted medical marijuana to be administered in those areas. So, I think it’s really just some legal fear that is stopping this proper administration of marijuana to patients and institutions including hospitals.
Rick Kiley: Got it. So, then as we’re coming towards the end of our questions here, I’m curious what you think. Do you think that this COVID crisis is going to cause lasting change on the cannabis industry even if it’s just the innovation of these like touchless like drive-in, delivery, pickup situations? Do you think it’s really going to have any impact on the industry as a whole, or kind of just be a temporary blip in the world of medical marijuana advancement in this country?
Ken Wolski: You know, I think that COVID is going to increase the acceptance of cannabis as medicine as morphine. What we’ve seen in the past, with all medical applications when people see that marijuana is helping the most vulnerable people in society, the most fragile people in society, it’s not harming them. It’s helping them. It’s making them controlling seizures in toddlers, controlling pain in hospice patients. This has got to put the light to the federal government’s insistence over the last over 50 years that marijuana has no accepted medical uses, and that it is unsafe for use, even under medical supervision, and that it is an extremely dangerous drug. You know, that’s what the federal government says about it. So, I really think that as more people use cannabis during the COVID crisis and they have that direct experience of the benefits of cannabis, there’s going to be greater acceptance of cannabis and a more readiness to promote the reform of marijuana laws including legalization of marijuana, which we have the ballot initiative coming up in November.
Rick Kiley: Ballot initiative, New Jersey, so full legalization recreational use?
Ken Wolski: Absolutely, yes. This is the ballot question in New Jersey is simply going to ask New Jersey voters whether or not marijuana should be allowed. We should amend the constitution to legalize cannabis for adults, yes or no?
Jeff Boedges: And if that passes, is it gone through? Or then does it go back to the state legislature?
Ken Wolski: Well, if that passes, the other part of it is that the Cannabis Regulatory Commission is going to work out the details of what this legal cannabis for adults in New Jersey is going to look like. Yes, the state would have to pass a law and the Cannabis Regulatory Commission would have to work out. That’s what it says. The CRC would have to work out the details and there will be a state sales tax of like 7% plus the possible 2% municipal tax. That’s the entire amendment. So, then how that is interpreted and how that works out will take place assuming that that ballot question passes on November 3. So, we’re very excited about that. Our organization endorse legalization in 2014. We think that it’s the best way to get the right medicine for the most people as my sign says there. And so, we’re very excited about it. We’re trying to register voters. We think that we should get out the vote campaign among the 18 to 25-year-olds who are the best supporters of marijuana reform right now in the country and we’re working with the cannabis voters project on this to ensure that this ballot question passes.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. That’s great. We wish you luck. So, we tend to end this podcast, which is called The Green Repeal the same way which is asking people to look into their crystal ball and talk about whether they believe that cannabis inevitably is headed for federal legalization, which is Jeff and my position. And if they do believe that, when? You’re the first person we’re talking to since the COVID crisis started so perhaps an accelerated or decelerated timeline. By your opinion, it suggests an accelerated timeline but curious as to what you think about that.
Ken Wolski: Yes. I think as more people believe, see how much marijuana benefits sick people, they will continue to promote its reform on a federal level. You know, the Trump administration right now has been kind of all over the map with it. They say they support some medical and they were studying how states are doing well, but on the other hand, Mr. Trump appointed Jeff Sessions, one of the firm’s opponents of marijuana reform as his initial Attorney General. So, it’s really hard to get a handle on where the Trump administration is on this. At least for me, I think they’re inconsistent, but hopefully, there will be enough pressure put on him to recognize that marijuana reform is happening throughout the states. This coming election there are a number of marijuana initiatives. We have states like North Dakota allowing for medical home cultivation of marijuana.
Ultimately, the states are going to have an overwhelming opinion that this is the right thing to do to reform these marijuana laws, not only for the patients, but also because of the damage that marijuana laws do to our culture, and especially the inner cities. Of course, that may be the problem itself. The inner cities are mostly blue and if the damage is done to the inner cities, maybe the red states don’t care about that. So, it’s really hard to tell.
Rick Kiley: That’s a different podcast, Ken.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. We’re going to have you back for the social justice one, but you do bring up a good point in addition to what we were saying. And that is, I mean, there’s a really strong financial incentive now to consider legalizing cannabis because last I checked, we just ran up about a $3 trillion tab in the last month. It would be interesting to say, or to see, like how are we going to get that money back because like I can’t really see a big tax increase going over with, at least not with the current administration. So, to me, it would be an interesting financial investment from both sides to say, “Okay, how are we going to get this money back?” And that would make a pretty big dent over 10 years. So, just a thought.
Ken Wolski: Yeah, absolutely. And decreasing the prison population. I mean, if you stop prosecuting these marijuana offenses, I mean, that’s 30,000 court cases that you don’t have to deal with anymore. Hundreds of millions of dollars in New Jersey that you avoid paying that price by legalizing marijuana in addition to the revenue that you would bring in the jobs and the rest.
Jeff Boedges: And plus, the incarcerations, eliminating the incarcerations. I don’t know what it costs to keep an inmate incarcerated these days but I know it ain’t cheap.
Ken Wolski: No, about $60,000 a year, I think. When I started working for the Department of Corrections in 1984 there were 9,000 inmates, and when I retired in 2006, there were 27,000 inmates in the state of New Jersey. 86% of them were black and Hispanic. So, I really saw this mass incarceration firsthand. I was actually part of it and that’s part of the reason why I’m so strongly against it, because I also live in Trenton, an inner-city, and I see the effect that this mass incarceration has had on the inner cities in New Jersey.
Jeff Boedges: All right. Well, as we said, that’s the next podcast we’ll have you back for as another social justice version.
Rick Kiley: Ken, you are a wealth of information and you’ve been a consummate gentleman and a great guest, so we really appreciate you coming on and talking to us.
Ken Wolski: Well, thank you, Jeff, and thank you, Rick. It’s been a pleasure being here.
Rick Kiley: Awesome. Thank you.
Rick Kiley: Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode of The Green Repeal, hit the subscribe button so future episodes are automatically downloaded directly to your device. And if you want access to today’s show notes, including links to all the resources mentioned, visit SOHOExp.com/GreenRepeal.