The truth is that it wasn’t until after the article “Framing Integral Leadership in the Medical Cannabis Community” was published that I understood it was a public policy-directed piece, and that I had just laid myself out to the world as not only an Integral Theorist but as an expert in Public Policy. WTF?
Four years ago this month, I was preparing to enter an Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program at Union Institute and University; my December was consumed with reading philosophy and required theory. I often stopped reading (each time my head would nearly explode) and wondered if I had lost my mind taking on this graduate program. The components of the program are Leadership, Humanities and Public Policy. Leadership is my bailiwick, and I love the humanities, but I planned to stay far away from the public policy aspect; I just never mingled well in public policy or in politics in general. I suppose I was a bit scared of the political fray in America, particularly as it regards cannabis decriminalization, but I was excited to take on the challenges this program and other students and their Social Justice missions would place in my path. As excited as I was to meet my peers, now known as “The Cohort 10,” I also wondered how they, other students, instructors, and even administrators, would react to my intention to focus my Leadership studies on medical marijuana.
During the journey, I became a cannabis patient. I still had no desire to enter public policy, though I was watching and learning more and more about policy at all levels: local, state, and nationally, just by watching the cannabis industry in each state I resided in (I have literally been a traveler on this journey and have so far been a recognized patient in three states: New Mexico, California, and Colorado after beginning the journey in Texas. That along with traveling to 27 other states and the District of Columbia and Italy have given me a vantage point few have of how public policy affects patients across this nation or the globe).
Along the way, I learned something significant: It is not the publicly recognized “leaders” that are the true leadership of this movement. Most of the recognized names and faces, well, truthfully they’re in it for personal gain not the public good in most cases. Instead, the real leadership comes from deep within the movement, from the patients themselves. It is my belief that each and every time a patient shares his or her story (or that of a loved one) with someone else—that act—that alone is leadership in action. It is how I learned to care for myself as a cannabis patient, and it is how I learned how poorly our public policies protect those like me—ordinary citizens who are marginalized by both chronic (or even terminal) healthcare conditions and also being labeled and thus stigmatized as a “medical marijuana” patient sharing their story and helping others, like me, find understanding.
All cannabis patients are stigmatized as we battle to have the right to use a medication that has positive effects for all humans as all humans have an endocannabinoid system. So basically, we’re all caught in the midst of poor public policies that still fail to acknowledge that this is a food and medicine for all, not for only a few, not for only the privileged, not for only the most marginalized, but for ALL human beings (hell, all mammals, our pets can even benefit from cannabis).
From agriculturists to scientific researchers the comparison of cannabis to tomatoes versus heroin or other Schedule 1 drugs is the norm. It’s only among the cannabis lobbyists, political organizations disguised as patient organizations, and attorney groups that represent cannabis that I hear any reference to cannabis having a need to be “highly regulated and taxed” or that access should be “restricted” at all. I certainly never hear them comparing it to tomatoes but instead alcohol, which is toxic, restricted, and heavily regulated. The fact that our own lobbyists refuse to fight for what patients really desire and need is the same reason that cannabis is still federally illegal, and arguably living in the “legalized” State of Colorado still provides so many policy and regulatory restrictions that cannabis is not available to most citizens who need it, much less the few dying to obtain it legally and having little luck accessing it (like the numerous refugees relocating here from home states that don’t favor cannabis therapy).
Wasn’t the point of each and every medical cannabis policy enacted to date ACCESS? Yet demand already far exceeds supply, and if cannabis were treated as the food, medicine, fiber and fuel it would be clear that the restrictive policies we’re setting in action are only helping a very few and not the masses. Why is this not being addressed? Why are only more restrictive policies being placed before State Legislatures? And why is virtually no action taking place federally? Oh yeah, because to date all public policy written or enacted regarding cannabis has been done so from a prohibitionist standpoint! Why is it that as cannabis patients we’re afraid to ask for what we want and need: real legalization? Oh yeah, it’s because we’ve been marginalized and stigmatized for more than seven decades, and we’re having a hard time escaping the old social constructs and forming new ones—ones in which we acknowledge that all humans have an endocannabinoid system and can benefit from cannabis holistically, as can our earth and society. So what do we do?
I’ve had to take a leave of absence from school to attend to my own medical needs, but along the way I’ve become a peer-reviewed author. The truth is that it wasn’t until after the article “Framing Integral Leadership in the Medical Cannabis Community” was published that I understood it was a public policy-directed piece, and that I had just laid myself out to the world as not only an Integral Theorist but as an expert in Public Policy. WTF?
Since that self-discovery and in sharing my work in forums hosted by such organizations as the International Leadership Association and the International Cannabinoid Research Society I have come to understand that despite my reluctance and long-held denial, I am going to somehow be involved in improving these policies. As it stands today, if a proper national policy completely alleviated the cannabis policy concerns I have, there would still be much to be done in education, leadership development, and enacting positive societal change. Rapid change isn’t an anticipated outcome given the history of the DEA, FDA, or any actions taken thus far by President Obama or our Congress, so who do we turn to? What can be done?
From where I stand after observing the emerging cannabis industry, personally engaging with nearly every known cannabis lobbyist and recognized activist or “leader,” I truly believe we have to take it to the real leadership in this movement: the patients! That said, Mark Pedersen, my partner and co-Director of Cannabis Patient Network Institute (CPNI), has passionately kept public policy on his mind and in nearly conversation he can insert it into—he’s a patient who understands and has for years worked on public policy in Missouri.
His experiences doing so include personal threats, blackmail, extortion, and eventually he stepped away wondering if he’d lost his mind as a patient and private citizen, but the passion remained. Two years ago when he came to Colorado with me to start CPNI, he vowed to fellow patients that he was taking them each with him and would return as well to help them find freedom: real legalization for their medication and real education about the human condition of each of us having own endocannabinoid system.
Yet, stranded in Denver after divesting from an unethical partnership, being repeatedly lied to and used by the biggest names in the business (and non-profits) came down hard on both of our health. This year we took a step back and analyzed the situation again and what we could do, after all we’re far from rich, struggle to keep CPNI afloat while educating many and helping quite a few, and dealing with personal health and family issues? Yet, we both yearn to do more but well what can we do? What can any citizen really do?
Regina Nelson, M.L.S.; Ph.D.
Regina Nelson is a Ph.D. student at Union Institute and University concentrating on Ethical and Creative Leadership studies and interdisciplinary research within the medical cannabis movement. Her educational background consists of undergraduate and graduate level Interdisciplinary degrees: a B.A. from Vermont College (1998) and an M.L.S. in Leadership from the University of Oklahoma (2002). In 2012, Ms. Nelson published her first peer-reviewed article, Framing Integral Leadership within the Medical Cannabis Community. She has also presented a peer-reviewed conferences hosted by the International Leadership Association and now the International Cannabinoid Research Society. Ms. Nelson is a founding officer of Cannabis Patient Network Institute (CPN Institute), a patient-led and driven membership organization desiring to build awareness of the endocannabinoid system and cannabis’ use as medicine and champion community-based research projects; as well, as Integral Education and Consulting, LLC with new and exciting educational organization launched in 2014. Nelson is the author of “Theorist-at-Large: One Woman’s Ambiguous Journey Into Medical Cannabis” available through pre-sales at or www.CPNInstitute.Org.
→ Regina Nelson, M.L.S.; Ph.D.

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