A first-of-its-kind event aims to bring new attention to how cannabis may be effective in treating illnesses and diseases that afflict minority communities.
The Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) is the first non-profit business association of business owners, advocates, and policy makers with the goal of providing economic, social justice and now health equity for people of color who have been most affected by the war on drugs.
Medical professionals, cultivators, processors and patient consumers of color will gather on Sept. 22, 2018 for the inaugural MCBA Medical Marijuana Summit in Baltimore, Maryland. The event will feature a keynote presentation by Dr. Rachel Knox, a physician, co-founder of American Cannabinoid Clinics and medical committee chairperson for the MCBA, panel discussions, and on-site registration and certification assistance to register with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.
Marijuana.com spoke with Knox and Shanita Penny, President of the MCBA and founder and CEO of Budding Solutions, a business consulting service for cannabis startups, to discuss the MCBA’s mission, the minority health disparity and the how cannabis can help provide minority communities the opportunity to access good health and healthcare.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the history of the Minority Cannabis Business Association?
Shanita Penny: The MCBA was the first 501 (c) (6) trade association specifically created to increase equal access to and economic empowerment for cannabis business, their patients and the communities most affected by the war on drugs. Those communities are black and Latino communities.
The work we’re doing is around addressing the disparity in health care for members of these communities. What we’re intending to do here is address the most critical harms of the war on drugs.
Rachel Knox: I was brought onto the board in early 2016 as a medical chair. One of the tenets of MCBA is consumer and patient awareness. We are trying not only to get people of color involved in the industry, from an economic equity standpoint, but we also want to push the message that cannabis is medicine. It can be a tool to serve our minority population that is one of our most vulnerable populations in the United States.
Can you speak to the minority health disparity gap, what that means to readers who may have never heard that term, and why you believe that cannabis has the potential to help us reach health equity?
Shanita Penny: The inequalities that exist in these communities are first of all avoidable and unjust. People of color in this country experience racial bias more often than others. They’re experiencing a lower quality of care, they have less access to care when they are experiencing trauma or health issues, and they lack access to the resources that promote good health. All of these things are factors that have contributed to the disparities in health care.
Rachel Knox: Healthy People 2020 is a nationwide push to close the gap in disease incidences, prevalence and disease care outcomes between minority populations and white populations. The gap is very large. Black people, and minorities at large, are diagnosed and have certain diseases at an increased rate than their white counterparts.
What that suggests about our conventional care system is that [when]people of color access the clinics and the hospitals that may or may not be in their communities, the discussion moves into the quality of care they receive once they get into the conventional care system. When you have African Americans dying at twice the rate as white people from complications of diabetes and blood pressure, but we assume they’re getting the same treatment and same interventions once they get to the hospital to address those needs, that’s an alarming statistic.
And what we’re coming to know about cannabis — how cannabinoids can be used to dilate blood vessels, improving blood flow to the heart and brain, killing cancer cells, modulating blood sugars, reducing blood pressure — therein lies one in many natural solutions to address this health disparity, in addition to relying on the conventional care system where we’re not getting the same outcome.
Shanita Penny: We have an opportunity to affect, through policy, how we’re treated in the grand scheme of things, but we have to also to take some of that responsibility onto ourselves. That’s why the MCBA has a mission to not forget about the health and wellness of these communities while we are trying to position them from an economic empowerment and social justice standpoint, to address criminal justice reform, which also plays into the health disparities in the community.
What goes into organizing a summit like this?
Shanita Penny: The beauty is that we were able to look into our existing network. One of the goals and objectives of the MCBA is to create and connect business professionals, medical professionals, policy makers, patients, and advocates throughout the country. So we were able to look at our network and leverage our individual networks to identify experts.
Rachel Knox: Information, information, information. I’ll be giving the keynote presentation at this summit, and I’ll be honing in on this history of cannabis preceding prohibition, the reason why prohibition occurred, and highlight the salient points of legalization and how this is an opportunity to change the narrative of black health in this country. And then we’re follow that up with a panel discussion of really qualified experts to speak to our community of color and address the barriers we’re recognizing to get us into the industry in a professional way, but also preventing our sick population from considering cannabis as a medicine.
Shanita Penny: We connect to the local community here in Baltimore. We pulled dispensary owners and cultivators, the local operators, the patients in the community. It was really a lot like what we’ve done relative to policy, business, or social justice. It’s rallying our community, mobilizing, and leveraging the individual resources for the benefit of the group.
What do you hope is the outcome of this summit?
Rachel Knox: It’s the first of its kind! I don’t know if I can really speak to that yet. But our mission is to get information out to the patient consumer as well as other key industry players.
What I’m always trying to preach to the patient consumer and the industry player is that what we have the chance to do here is develop an ecosystem that you may also call a big research project. You have cultivation, we have processing that turns that cultivation into products, those products get dispensed through a dispensary or retail outlet, the patient consumer picks up that product and uses it, maybe with the guidance of a medical professional who collects the data that then could feed that cultivator’s processor to make better products. Its this enormous feedback loop.
Shanita Penny: We have experienced individuals ready to assist attendees with the first step of getting registered with the Maryland medical cannabis program. We then have medical cannabis experts to give free consultations specific to your individual needs or questions around cannabis. Finally, we have a doctor onsite to actually do the medical evaluation — this could run you anywhere between $200 and $250 dollars, that’s just an average and could be much more expensive depending on access and where you live in the state. They can see the doctor on Saturday. When they walk out of there, they will have knowledge, will have registered with the commission and potentially seen a doctor, and all they’re waiting for now is for the state of Maryland to send them an email and say “Hey, you are registered. Go to the dispensary and pick up your medicine.” I’m really excited.