Medical marijuana for multiple sclerosis sounds pretty simple, but my friend and fellow MS advocate, Amy Gurowitz, has found out differently. The route to get medical marijuana for her has taken some interesting twists.
I spoke in length with Amy about her decision try medical marijuana and what it took to get her first cannabis. I was prompted to place this call after I saw an online fund raising page she set up to assist with the costs, which she estimates will be $8-10,000 for two years of medical marijuana. Amy gets to her estimated amount by working through all the registration fees, doctor appointments and the cost of the marijuana, none of which are covered by her medical insurance.
Her fundraising page lists the following:
(first year fees)
- $500 for doctor’s consultation
- $200 for state program registration and application
- $4,200 Annual fees for product and related materials ($350 per month for Rx including monthly visit with the doctor for renewal fees for the first year)
Total 1st year: $4900
Total for 2nd Year: $4200
Amy had no idea what the dispensary might charge for the marijuana because they are not allowed to talk to anyone until after they have their government issued marijuana card and could only make estimates based on her own online research.
Researching Medical Marijuana Programs
“This is a work in progress- and has been such an incredible learning experience,” said Amy. “When I first heard of it, the financial issues to get medical marijuana were insurmountable and I know I couldn’t take the stress of going into debt.” Amy is on disability and her husband is a teacher, so there is little extra money in their budget.
Amy did the research for medical marijuana because of her worsening symptoms, particularly problems with spasticity. “I had intermittent pain and in the evening I get incredible spasticity in my legs with the shooting pains. The big clincher for me was the stiffness I experienced from the spasticity which I have had for years and has been untreatable with other drugs,” said Amy.
She says she doesn’t want to buy marijuana off the street because getting high is not her objective. New Jersey is one of 28 U.S. states and the District of Columbia that have legalized medical marijuana, so getting a medical marijuana prescription was a logical choice.
Doctor Referrals and Prescriptions
In her home state of New Jersey, medical marijuana is legal but certainly not a simple or inexpensive process. “First I had to get the recommendation from my doctor that I would benefit from medical marijuana, and then through the state provided list I picked out a doctor who can prescribe marijuana. This guy was a couple miles from my house, and it was just going through the motions. I had to see the doctor three times to establish that I was a regular patient,” explained Amy. She made the required three visits in a two week period, and then when the state was satisfied, Amy received her medical marijuana card.
Finding the Right Dispensary
I would have thought this was then a simple process, but Amy explained further. It was only AFTER she received her card that she could see the list of medical marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey and make an appointment to discuss her needs with them. “When I started exploring the dispensaries in New Jersey I was amazed, because it is so refined. When you buy pot off the grid (illegally), there is no way of knowing what you are getting. Even when you buy medical marijuana from a dispensary, it can take time and experimenting to find the right strain because like (other) medicines, the strains of medical marijuana have different effects on different people.”
She made her choice of the dispensary based on their selling practices. Amy has a prescription for ½ ounce of medical marijuana per month and the dispensary she choose will let her split that into two different strains to try until she finds the one most effective for her spasticity. Most of the New Jersey dispensaries will not sell ¼ ounce amounts. She also needed to consider if the dispensary would sell in various forms, because she is positive she doesn’t want to smoke marijuana, and talked about oils, edibles and even being able to get medical marijuana in the form of gummy bears.
Financial Resources = Access to Medical Marijuana
Her online fundraising has been well received and Amy says “The issue of money felt so unfair because medical marijuana might help me but I couldn’t stand the anxiety and stress of the debt, and I was feeling so sad and lacking in hope. The support from my family and friends has been mind blowing, I feel so good from all the support, donations and comments. Emotionally, I feel encouraged and I have hope again.”
I asked if she would talk to me again in the near future about her experience with medical marijuana. “I like to spread the word and share what I know and learn,” said Amy, and we plan to share more of her story as it evolves.
Wishing you well,