There was little research out there on the medicinal properties of cannabis when Montel Williams first felt excruciating pain in his feet. This came at the peak of his career in 1999 as host of The Montel Williams Show.
“It quickly spread up to my knees, legs, then arms,” Williams told DOPE Magazine. “I tried various pharmaceuticals—to no avail—but then a doctor at Harvard recommended cannabis; and I’ve been using it as a medicine ever since.”
Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system that does not currently have a cure but with treatment might be helped. In the early 2000s, he publically announced his cannabis use, and so began his more than 15-year, high-profile advocacy career for medical cannabis research, striving to ensure top-quality and consistent products.
This September, he announced his new company, LenitivLabs by Lenitiv Scientific, which is based in California and creates a line of “medical-grade cannabis products,” according to its website. These products are expected to be ready as early as 2017 in California.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to evaluate LenitivLab’s products. The FDA “has not approved marijuana as a safe and effective drug for any indication,” but has approved two drugs containing a synthetic substance that “acts similar to compounds from marijuana but is not present in marijuana,” according to the agency. This issue goes back to the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which characterizes it as having “no currently accepted medical use,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Williams advocates for using real marijuana products and promotes ongoing research of the plant. He hopes to see more money going into such science so patients can benefit from its healing properties he himself has experienced.
Prior to becoming a television personality, Williams was in the United States military for more than two decades. Today, he draws on his personal story as a patient and a veteran to ensure both parties have access to cannabis so their medical needs are met, but there’s still work to do, he said.
Recently, Williams spoke with DOPE Magazine about his experience, his cannabis activism and where the anticipates the industry is headed.
DOPE Magazine: Tell us about the transformation from a ‘90s American talk show host to a 21st century cannabis activist?
Montel Williams: At the height of my TV career, I was flying out from New York to LA when I felt an excruciating pain in my feet. A few days later, my doctor diagnosed me with multiple sclerosis (MS). The pain was literally paralyzing. It quickly spread up to my knees, legs, then arms. I tried various pharmaceuticals—to no avail—but then a doctor at Harvard recommended cannabis. I’ve been using cannabis as a medicine ever since. Very early on, I became a cannabis advocate to ensure that patients have access to cannabis for medical purposes. I’ve fought for medical cannabis reform in numerous states and on Capitol Hill.
Q: Did you have a pre-established perception of cannabis, and, if so, what was that moment when your perspective of cannabis changed?
A: As a former Naval Intelligence Officer for 22 years, I used to have to get blood-tested every few months, so I’d never been a regular cannabis user. But after my diagnosis with MS, cannabis became a very necessary medicine for treating my symptoms.
Q: Is there a moment you can point to when you knew you didn’t want to be just a medical marijuana patient anymore?
A: I’m a big research nut—so when I first started using cannabis, I read everything I could about it—the medical effects, the science and the legal landscape. Back then, you had cancer patients being wheeled out of their homes by the police for using cannabis. Having experienced its medicinal effects firsthand, I decided that law enforcement had no business interfering between doctors and their patients; and it became my mission to stand up for patients.
Q: It’s evident that you’re passionate about bringing transparency to the cannabis industry. What’s the biggest issue you’re seeing right now that stems from a lack of transparency and accountability?
A: Seed-to-sale tracking software has been shown to be essential in ensuring transparency and accountability, as well as patient safety. California has been slow to adopt tracking software, which has led to a lot of issues with federal and local prosecution, seizures and raids; but California’s new law looks as if it’ll increase transparency and accountability.
Q: How has your celebrity image hindered or helped you gain traction in the cannabis industry?
A: My celebrity image has been less important than my experience as a cannabis patient. It certainly helps that people know me, but mainly they can relate to my health journey with MS, and my absolute reliance on cannabis to treat the symptoms.
Q: We dove into previous interviews you’ve done, and we wondered if there was something you always hoped someone would ask you that no has asked before?
A: I do get asked—but not often enough—about the veterans. As a Marine Corps veteran myself, I’ve fought hard over the years to ensure that veterans have access to cannabis to relieve symptoms of PTSD; and there’s still a lot of work to be done on that front.
Q: What’s on your calendar of upcoming cannabis-related events?
A: Alongside the launch of my new medical cannabis brand, LenitivLabs by Lenitiv Scientific, I’m looking forward to speaking at several cannabis conferences this year.
Q: What do you see as your biggest challenge in 2017?
A: The single biggest challenge is always making this movement appeal to folks in states that aren’t online yet, most of which are conservative and don’t have a lot of frame of reference on this issue.
Q: How do you envision the future of cannabis?
A: On the recreational front, I anticipate a spike in use, and a steady improvement in quality, as new regulations go into effect and as cannabis consumers seek out the best legal options available to them. On the medical front, I hope and expect to see more money poured into research and science and expect to see new cannabis patients benefitting.
For more information on LenitivLabs, visit www.lenitivlabs.com
Also published on Medium.