By Nadya Rousseau
Speaking Truth to Power is a statement that has been revisited with significant momentum in the last two years. In a time that is as technologically progressed as it is socially regressed, political activism is on a necessary uptick.
2019: a year where AR, VR, and AI capabilities triumph the affordability of healthcare in the United States. A year where a young man of color wearing a hooded sweatshirt, walking home at night from a part-time job, can be profiled by police while a young white man gets off easy after sexually assaulting young women at his university.
Movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM), #TimesUp, #NeverAgain, and grassroots activists resisting President Donald Trump’s oppressive policies show how necessary speaking truth to power remains, even as we edge towards 2020, a year that should usher in more than “change”: a total deletion of antiquated and oppressive beliefs around marginalized people and issues as fundamental as healthcare and the environment.
Another movement speaking truth to power is the movement for federal cannabis legalization, for the millions of people suffering from illnesses that can be aided by the medicinal properties of the plant. And one of the earliest champions of medical cannabis is none other than multi-hyphenate Montel Williams.
Known for his legendary Emmy Award-winning talk show, The Montel Williams Show, which was on the air for nearly 20 years, and extensive research on medical cannabis for not just managing but preventing the escalation of multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, Montel has been paving a path forward for himself and millions of others suffering from MS, chronic pain, and other medical ailments since being diagnosed with MS himself.
“Back when I got diagnosed with MS in 1999, there were people being dragged out of their homes, hooked to IVs because people reported them for growing marijuana plants. How dare we judge people for trying to live a productive life. Cannabis isn’t hurting people, it’s helping people.”
In 1996, medical cannabis became legal in California. Today, marijuana is legal in over 32 states for medical purposes—but stigmas still remain. There has always been an ignorance, or even denial, of the positive impacts medical cannabis could have on people suffering from degenerative illnesses like MS.
“When I was diagnosed, I was told to prepare to go home and die,” Montel reflected. “Ignorant and myopic! I own the definition of who I am and will not live up to another person’s expectations.” And with that, Montel spoke truth to power, rejecting the traditional therapies for MS, opting instead to dive headfirst into research on the benefits of alternative therapies. His choice to stand up to “medical authority” is a choice most Americans fear—the same can be said for standing up against any institutional authority dictating the course of our lives.
“We live in a nation where that is par for the course; a large percentage of people who live in this country think doctors are Gods and won’t do anything that is contrary to what their doctor tells you. But take the time to read, study, and learn—they don’t know much more than you do! With my new regimen, I realized I can make an impact in the trajectory of what my illness was going to be.”
A major component of his regimen was medical cannabis. For many people with MS, cannabis has proven helpful in preventing muscle spasms, pain, and neurological symptoms like tingling in the hands and feet. Learning and experiencing firsthand how transformative cannabis was for his MS, Montel founded the Montel Williams MS Foundation to expand upon his research and provide necessary resources to people suffering as he had.
The establishment of the foundation and years of advocacy work eventually led him to establish his own medical cannabis company, Lenitiv. Lenitiv “provides patients and adult users with safe, reliable access to the same high-quality CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) oils that [Montel Williams] personally has relied upon for nearly two decades to improve his own quality of life.” For Montel, Lenitiv was years in the making, and he’s proud to be not just the founder, but the formulator of all the company’s hemp and cannabis products.
“I did not jump into the cannabis space because I was jumping on the bandwagon. I was one of the leaders in emphasizing to this nation that there are alternatives to what we think. [With Lenitv] I am involved hands-on and the formulator.”
Montel Williams not only wears a lot of professional hats in his life—media personality, cannabis advocate, and now social entrepreneur as the founder of Lenitiv—but also personal identities. Although a public persona with a net worth in the millions, Montel has still experienced racism, especially targeted towards his use of medical cannabis.“
I have literally been arrested a few times and then it was thrown out with judges making bold statements about why I should never have bothered to begin with. I felt like I was scrutinized more as an African-American. The one time I was stopped because I had a new glass-blown pipe; back in the day when I was stopped probably 95% of the time, people were doing so with such an expensive object. The person saw this thing and got nasty [because] I had a pipe!”
Montel’s personal experiences, coupled with a larger awareness of the stigma around cannabis, especially for people of color, has led him to commit to expanding opportunities for minorities. “60% of all African-Americans in prison today have had some type of cannabis charge. The truth of the matter is that people sitting in prison right now are African-American kids who were arrested for having one joint in their pocket.” Color should never impact one’s ability to climb the corporate ladder—or do anything. “We will hire the best qualified people, period, and help them ascend.”
Montel Williams understands speaking truth to power, and it is also imperative to be armed with necessary knowledge to challenge the opposition’s rebuttals. “Knowledge is one of the easiest things to gain and share in this age. If I Google one thing I get 35 articles. So, it’s incumbent upon me to have the knowledge that someone can reach out and ask someone that knows more than me.”
In this case, we will acquiesce to the knowledge of Montel Williams, as he takes a stand against medical injustice. He’s pioneering the movement for federal cannabis legalization, through his advocacy and company, offering multiple solutions to people suffering from chronic illness.
Truth to power, and knowledge is king.