The Association for Cannabis Health Equity and Medicine (ACHEM), the nation’s first association focused on medical professionals of color in the cannabis industry, has launched its groundbreaking Freedom Initiative. This program aims to train medical and legal experts to safeguard the rights of medical cannabis patients ensnared in the justice system and decrease unjust incarcerations. ACHEM Freedom Initiative (AFI) is bolstered by a $100,000 contribution from The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation’s Hawthorne Social Justice Fund.
What Is The Association For Cannabis Health Equity And Medicine (ACHEM)?
Founded by Drs. Janice, Jessica, and Rachel Knox and Dr. Ogadinma Obie, ACHEM is a mutual benefit nonprofit organization serving the needs of BIPOC healers and health and medical professionals in the advancement of health equity. AFI builds upon this mission by addressing the stigmas and legal challenges that many medical cannabis patients face, particularly in historically excluded communities.
Why Was The ACHEM Freedom Initiative Created?
Dr. Carmen Jones, an ACHEM Board Member and Director of the AFI program, explains that the initiative was inspired by her experience protecting a patient of color from jail after another doctor refused to support her. With scientific evidence about the healing power of the plant, she successfully kept the patient from incarceration and from losing child custody.
“Incarceration rates are unjustifiably higher in Black communities and other communities of color,” says Dr. Jones, an integrative medicine physician. “Patients are neglected in healthcare settings. We’re proud to create an effort that allows us to combat two forms of injustice that leave our communities in a state of poor health.”
ACHEM Freedom Initiative And National Association Of Black Cannabis Lawyers Partnership
To better serve AFI’s program, ACHEM has formed a collaborative partnership with the National Association of Black Cannabis Lawyers (NABCL) to create a workgroup with legal and medical experts to facilitate program execution and professional collaboration. With these teams working together, AFI will operate toward the goals of creating a comprehensive Legal Resource Library (a toolkit for legal defense in medical cannabis cases); training ACHEM experts as legal consultants; and fostering partnerships between healthcare and legal professionals for unified defense strategies.
ACHEM Freedom Initiative Director Carmen Jones Talks Legal Protections For Medical Cannabis Patients
Honeysuckle caught up with Dr. Jones for a few more insights on AFI and what we can expect from the ACHEM community going forward.
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: Can you explain how the ACHEM Freedom Initiative plans to address the specific legal challenges faced by medical cannabis patients, especially in historically marginalized communities?
DR. CARMEN JONES: Historically, African American communities have been arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at nearly four times the rate of whites, despite both ethnicities consuming marijuana at roughly the same rates, according to the ACLU. We believe many of these individuals are likely using cannabis medicinally. Due to widespread distrust in governmental systems within these communities, they may not feel comfortable, be financially able, or have access to obtaining a medical card. If convicted of a “drug-related” crime, these individuals risk losing their livelihood, employment, housing, children, or their health. ACHEM aims to interrupt this process and restore the community.
Dr. Jones, can you share how your personal and professional experiences have influenced and inspired the creation and direction of the ACHEM Freedom Initiative?
For more than 12 years, I have taught patients how to use cannabis as medicine. I have encountered so many people improving their medical conditions using cannabis, which made me feel useful and like a pioneer. I have always been civically active and have fought for the underdog. So when a colleague called asking for my expertise with a patient who showed up in his office, I agreed to help. A young African-American woman had been threatened with jail time after testing positive for THC. Her doctor had instructed her to use cannabis to help with her extreme nausea, not knowing that she would be drug tested by the courts after receiving a DUI a year earlier. Her doctor refused to support her.
With the help of my fellow ACHEM experts shaping my testimony, we successfully kept this patient from being sent to jail. It could have gone another way, but with sound scientific evidence of how medicinal cannabis is used, the patient’s freedom was preserved. So I reported back to my ACHEM family, and we decided that there are likely many others who could use our assistance. I was overcome with emotion and knew we were onto something big.
Looking ahead, what are the long-term goals of the ACHEM Freedom Initiative, and how do you plan to measure its success in fostering medical-legal collaboration and advancing health equity?
The long-term goal of AFI is to interrupt the system that criminally or civilly penalizes individuals of color for using or possessing cannabis in any of its forms. We will be working in collaboration with the National Association of Black Cannabis Lawyers to achieve the following goals and measure their success over time, despite federal legalization:
- Provide resources for patients, their healthcare providers, and their legal professionals to assist in cases related to cannabis use for medicinal purposes.
- Train healthcare providers to serve as experts in medicinal cannabis cases.
- Facilitate collaboration between medical and legal professionals to optimize services for patients with medicinal cannabis cases.
Health equity is the assurance of all people's access to full health and well-being. By leveling the playing field with these types of services for patients of color, we affirm their right to use their choice of medicine without the threat of harm. It also allows our society to get one step closer to ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to live holistically healthy and happy lives. In time, we hope to see our impact through improved statistics related to disproportionate cannabis incarceration rates and gaps in morbidity and mortality rates between white communities and communities of color.
For more information about ACHEM and the ACHEM Freedom Initiative, visit achemed.org.
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Featured image: Dr. Carmen Jones, Board Member of ACHEM and Director of the ACHEM Freedom Initiative (C) ACHEM