Moms, families help cannabis movement grow in Central IL

By Holly Eitenmiller For Chronicle Media

Rachel Martinez, right, joined the May 6 Cannabis March at the Peoria County Courthouse to support medical marijuana.  Martinez’ son, Julieahn, featured in the photo beside her, died of brain cancer when he was 3. To ease her son’s suffering, she administered to him small doses of high potency cannabis oil, which reduced his nausea and helped him eat. (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chronicle Media)

In the 1980s, Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin capitalized on the stereotypical “pothead” image in their series of marijuana-based comedies. But the face of the cannabis user is quickly evolving from that as cannabis slowly is becoming destigmatized through legislation across the country.

Since the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn on Aug. 1, 2013, the face is the marijuana user is now that of businesspeople, grandmothers, mothers, and even children.

When Rachel Martinez’ 2-and-a-half-year-old son Julieahn was diagnosed with a primitiveneuroectodermal tumor, a rare, highly malignant form of brain cancer, she was told he only had weeks to live. Martinez immediately began administering cannabis oil to her son through his diet.

“I told my dad, ‘I’m doing this and no one’s stopping me,” she said. “Everyone I knew questioned me like I was crazy, even my family thought it was crazy.”

Martinez learned much of what she knows of the medicinal uses of cannabis from living in California before moving to Peoria. Instead of weeks, Julieahn lived six months longer, and Martinez said some in the medical field who cared for the toddler agreed the cannabis oil helped ease his suffering while extending his life.

“That was a very precious six months for that family,” Sarah Whitmire, patient care director for Trinity Compassionate Care in Peoria said of Martinez’ experience.

The Trinity cannabis dispensary opened in December 2015, has tripled in clientele since, and provides all manner of cannabis products, including transdermal oils, sprays and patches, edibles and flower, the traditional smokable form cannabis.

“The majority of what we sell is in flower because it kicks in so quickly, it’s easy to control the dosage and it’s the way it’s been used for years,” she said. “A lot of people use several methods. Everybody’s different, and you can really tailor it to your personal needs.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health’s list of qualifying conditions, last updated on its website November 2016 includes cancer, severe fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Tourette’s Syndrome and a myriad of other conditions, and the list is growing.

“A lot soccer moms love the sprays,” Whitmire said. “They can treat themselves for the pain of fibromyalgia and other conditions discretely, so they can enjoy being out there in the stands for their kids.”

People from all walks of life are seeking the cannabis alternative, she said, but that number isn’t growing as quickly as it could, due to resistance from the medical community.

“The ideal way to seek a cannabis license is through a primary care physician, but a lot of these doctors are refusing to sign the form,” Whitman said. “It’s a great help if they would do that, and their medical licenses are protected under the program. It comes from lack of awareness.”

When a patient with a qualifying condition wishes to seek cannabis care, a physician need only sign a form acknowledging the person’s condition. Doctors are not required to fill out a prescription, or monitor cannabis treatment, but many still hazard to give a nod in that direction.

“We do see a lot of cancer patients, and the cancer doctors haven’t been as resistant as some of the other doctors,” she said.

Kara Chesley, left, Alexis Doke center, and Destiney Ulrich, gathered May 6 at Peoria County Courthouse for the grassroots Cannabis March. Doke hosts a Facebook group called “She’s Chronic”, in which the focus is “women who consume”. In the first trimester of her pregnancy Chesley was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a condition which causes severe nausea, vomiting and dehydration. Cannabis, she said, helped treat the symptoms and prevent complications during her pregnancy. (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chronicle Media)

Toby Clayton, Agent in Charge for nuMed, a company that operates dispensaries in East Peoria and Urbana, shares Whitman’s frustration with the timidity from the medical community. He, like Whitman, also holds a firm belief in the medical efficacy of cannabis, and empathy for those who seek it.

“We really are trying to help people, and we’re glad to help anyone get started,” he said. “It’s great when we get stories of biopsies that are cancer-free, and cancers that are in remission after cannabis treatment.”

Clayton said nuMed, which began taking patients in December 2016, is seeing around 20-25 new patients per month, most of whom are looking to free themselves from years of prescription pain medications by replacing them homeopathically.

“A lot of people are on pain pills, and they’re looking to get away from opiates and chemicals because they’re addictive and they’re making them sick,” he said. Though the dispensary cannot recommend cannabis-friendly physician referrals, Clayton said, they do maintain and provide all documents necessary to apply for the license, which are available to anyone upon request.

Meanwhile, now that Illinois legislators have given the green light to medical cannabis, the light for recreational marijuana usage has turned yellow.

Senate Bill 316 and House Bill 2353, would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to 28 grams of marijuana, while the state will regulate cultivation, sales, and tax. The marijuana may be purchased from a dispensary in the same fashion as alcohol from a liquor store; by providing valid identification showing proof of age. Consumers would also be allowed to grow up to five plants.

The impetus for such bills is not necessarily linked to the slow destigmatizing the drug. The passage of recreational cannabis laws in Illinois may be a remedy for the state’s budget woes. One need only look to Colorado, which garnered more than $200 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales.

The Illinois General Assembly earlier this month heard presentations from administrators who oversee the legalized marijuana program in Colorado.

Co-authors state Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy believe Illinois could gain as much as $700 million in annual revenues.

For women like Kara Chesley, Alexis Doke and Destiny Ulrich, the move to legalize recreational marijuana only makes sense.  The trio recently joined May 6 at the Peoria County Courthouse, along with Martinez, as part of the annual Global Marijuana March, an international rally slotted each year for the first Saturday in May.

The three champion the cause “Women Who Consume”, which advocates the use of marijuana for relaxation, as well as relief from severe nausea during pregnancy, as well as other maladies not cited on the IDPH’s list of qualifying conditions.

In the first trimester of her pregnancy, Doke was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, an uncommon, but serious form of nausea, vomiting and dehydration that can compromise the health of the mother and fetus.

Doke used cannabis to ease the symptoms, but she and her friends also advocate marijuana’s recreational use.  “Women shouldn’t have to hide it,” Chesley said. “Smoking pot isn’t something to be ashamed of.”

In step with the changing times, Peoria will now impose more lenient fines for those caught with small amounts of marijuana. The fine for possession of 10 grams or less of non-medical cannabis once ranged between $350 and $750, and was incremental based on the number of offenses a person carries.

Now, a first time offense will cost $125, then double for a second and double again to $500 for a third. That ordinance was passed by city council this month.







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