Photography by Taylor Ecker for This is Jane Project.

For Some Medical Marijuana Patients, Non-Profits Fill Gaps in Accessibility

Because marijuana remains subject to federal prohibitions, some patients find their medication financially out of reach even in states that have legalized it.

By LJ Dawson
By LJ Dawson

Founder of The Des and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Charlene, 50-years-old now, moved across the country in 2015, uprooting her life from New York to settle in Northern California. What drove her was the search for a place where she could legally use marijuana to treat the symptoms of her uterine fibroids, which were so large she looked eight months pregnant.  (New York didn’t create a medical marijuana program until 2016, which was severely limited by the tiny number of licensees, and the list of qualifying conditions was incredibly restrictive.)

In over two decades since her fibroid diagnosis, marijuana is the only medicine that effectively treats her life debilitating chronic health issue. The same fibroids affecting Charlene occur in more than 70% of women, 25-50% of whom show clinical symptoms. Fibroids appear earlier and with more severity in Black women than in white, according to the National Institute of Child and Human Development. Charlene, a Black woman, was diagnosed at 28-years-old. 

Fibroids appear earlier and with more severity in Black women than in white. Charlene, a Black woman, was diagnosed at 28-years-old.

Doctors originally prescribed birth control pills to Charlene to help regulate her period and heavy bleeding (her periods became regular but the bleeding was still heavy), and Anaprox to help with the pain. They also prescribed Lupron to help reduce the size of the fibroids before she had surgery to remove them, but the drug threw her into premature menopause, causing significant mood swings, hot flashes and it didn’t reduce the size, she said.

She had her first surgery a year after her diagnosis. In that time her fibroids grew from baseball size to the size of a five month fetus. The myomectomy, which involves essentially performing a c-section to remove the fibroids, left her recovering for weeks. The surgery ultimately did not work for her: her tumors not only grew back, but grew back larger.  “Five to six years later they were back,” she said. 

Dr.Tiffany Bowden

In 2008, doctors suggested another surgery for her five-month-fetus sized fibroids. But when  the economic crash happened and she lost her job at a bank, she also lost her insurance to have the surgery.

Things were looking up for Charlene, two years of living in California and ingesting raw juiced cannabis and full spectrum left her fibroids in recession. A 2017 MRI showed them degenerating. 

 

But then the Tubbs Fire burned through Sonoma. Taking her house, all the plants, cannabis products and much of the town she lived in. 

 

She had a small batch of cannabis oil she rationed for a few months then it was nothing. She was couch surfing. Her condition had improved enough over the years of using cannabis oil that she didn’t need to take pain killers. “All of the ground that I gained as far as shrinkage, I lost,” she said. 

Unable to afford to pay out-of-pocket for cannabis from dispensaries and unable to utilize any insurance coverage because of the continuing federal prohibition on all legal marijuana use, Charlene went without  — until last summer, when she found a compassionate gifting program to provide cannabis for her. By the time she found Survivors without Access, This is Jane Project’s SB-34 compliant compassion program, her fibroids had grown to make her look eight months pregnant. 


People of color, women and non-binary people have traditionally faced more hurdles to access all medical treatments, and marijuana has been no different. Charlene’s case is just one more example of how legalizing the medical use of marijuana doesn’t remove the roadblocks of cost and availability to patients.

“It’s legal, but not necessarily accessible,” Charlene told The Des. “And if it’s accessible, it’s not necessarily affordable.” 

“It's legal, but not necessarily accessible,” Charlene told The Des. “And if it's accessible, it's not necessarily affordable.”

Because of the severity of her symptoms, she often has difficulty finding work in her industry due to her condition. “It’s very frustrating to know something can heal you, but then it’s something I don’t have the money for so I can’t [use it].”

This is Jane gifting products. Credit: This is Jane Project

Charlene’s marijuana was provided to her after the This Is Jane Project, an existing compassionate cannabis gifting non-profit, launched a second gifting program, Survivors Without Access, last summer. It specifically focuses on getting medicinal cannabis to women and non-binary people who are survivors of trauma whether sexual or gender based or more general trauma like losing your home to wildfire like Charlene. And Survivors Without Access, in partnerships including partnerships with Eaze, Miss Grass, and Dear Cannabis, has given out over 300 compassion donations. Each one generally includes a variety of products from cannabis flower to edibles, tinctures, pain creams, and concentrates. 

“[The program] actually makes it accessible and affordable, which is what I need,” Charlene explained. ”Especially when you’re feeling like you can’t go out and get a second job when you can barely get one job right now,” she said. Charlene received two deliveries of cannabis products as part of This is Jane Project’s first initiative. “My condition is improving just in this short period of time,” she said.  “With what I’ve been able to ingest, I’ve lost three inches off my waistline so that tells me that my tumors are reducing.”

In California, The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act of 2019 allowed already licensed cannabis retailers to provide free cannabis to medical card users or primary care givers. 

In 2019 Shannon DeGrooms, the executive director of This is Jane Project, became inspired to start the new project because she did not see a gifting organization that specifically supported women and non-binary trauma survivors. 

“I think it is utterly important because women are disproportionately victims of violence and various traumas,” DeGrooms told The Des.

“I think it is utterly important because women are disproportionately victims of violence and various traumas,” DeGrooms told The Des. 

 

In addition to providing compassionate use cannabis, the This is Jane Project also partners with Leafwell to offer medical cannabis cards for $19 instead of the typical $150-100 cost — and all its services are provided to women, transgender and non-binary people.

 

“It’s important to understand that women are at risk for a lot of different conditions especially as it relates to mental health, some of those being anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, substance abuse,” Tiffany Bowden, a This Is Jane Project board member and anti-racism educator, diversity and communication specialist, said. 

Recipients of This is Jane Project’s first gifting program. Credit: This is Jane Project

And women, women of color, transgender and non-binary people face higher rates of domestic abuse, she added, highlighting the need for a compassionare care program aimed at them specifically. 

“Socio-economic factors — combined with having to navigate systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, and other societal conditions — exacerbate already existing conditions such as PTSD and anxiety,” Bowden explained. 

“Cannabis is often a safer alternative than many of the prescribed medications that are available,” to treat those conditions, Bowden said. “Also, cannabis is significantly cheaper than many of those alternatives, particularly if you're engaging through a compassionate care program.”

DeGrooms hopes to expand This Is Jane across the country as more states legalize cannabis. 

 

Charlene said she thinks about when she was first diagnosed and her fibroids were only the size of an orange. “What if my treatment was cannabis oil then? My tumors would not have grown, it would not have disrupted my life, and put me on this track.”

 

“Cannabis is real medicine,” she said. “The work that this is Jane is doing is very necessary. As someone who’s benefiting from it, I have so much gratitude for the program.”

 

To sign up for the compassionate gifting program visit This is Jane Project. 

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