Montel Williams: The Freedom Leaf Interview
Joining the wave of canna-celebs entering the industry with a product line, long-time medical marijuana patient and activist Montel Williams has launched his new brand, LenitivLabs, that will provide patients with innovative delivery systems. Williams, who suffers from MS, can’t roll joints or fill a bowl, so he needs properly dosaged edibles and carefully-calibrated cannabis oils to inhale via vape pens—and he wants pure and properly prepared medicinal cannabis products to become more widely available. The hotly-anticipated rollout will begin this month at Bay Area dispensaries. Williams, who lives in New York, met with Freedom Leaf at his offices in Manhattan’s Herald Square.
I never thought about how hard it could be for MS patients to roll a joint.
I can barely button my buttons. This is one of those things that MS does to people. You think I’m going to roll a joint? By the time I’m done it’s going to be all over the table. Or if I open something and want to put it into a bowl, I can spill half of it all over the table. I want convenience for the patient like me that
Are you unhappy with the products that are currently available for patients?
I’m tired of seeing people who claim they’re selling medication when they really aren’t. You want to sling weed, sling all the weed you want. Have as much fun as you want, get as high as you want. I could care less. You want to get high and smoke as much butane as you want, go ahead. But if you’re trying to tell people that you have something you’ve prepared medically, then start preparing it that way. Don’t give that to a child who has epilepsy and claim that you’re giving them medication. Don’t give it to a person who has MS or a person who has a neurological disease. I want to make sure that people like me have a place they can go to, and the confidence that the product that’s being given them has been prepared with care, for patients by patients. My 85-year-old mother has had multiple forms of cancer. She’s not dabbing anything. She’s not rolling a joint or a blunt. She wants to take medication the way she’s used to taking medication. Why don’t we have delivery systems for people who are ill?
What does Lenitiv stand for?
“Lenitiv” is a term used in the pharmaceutical industry. It means assuaging pain. I love the term. For the last 16 years, I’ve been a daily cannabinoid consumer. It’s the only thing that’s helped me assuage my symptoms. That’s why we named it LenitivLabs, because I literally want to turn this into a pharmaceutical company. I believe the same standards used in pharmacology right now should be used for those who are seeking it out as a medication.
What are some of the products you’ll be releasing?
I’ve got some proprietary delivery systems that I’ve created myself and have been working on for quite a while. One is a vapor product. [He takes a prototype out of his bag and shows me.] It allows me to eat and vape at the same time. [He opens it, pulls it out and licks the oil.] That’s about 17 mg of cannabinoids that I just took in. It’s 60/30/10—60% THC, 30% CBD and a 10% blend, plus some terpenes. Myrcene is a good vehicle when it comes to pain. We’re using all the individual terpenes and putting them back in for diseases that they seem to work best for.
Will Lenitiv have edible products?
One of my first products out the block is going to be an edible. It’s 100% all natural, no preservatives or additives, and one of the fastest all-food-based delivery systems that we have. I’m positive that a patient is going to like this delivery system. I’d rather you take 5 mg or 10 mg, then take another 5 mg or 10 mg—I want them to sit and wait at least an hour before they ingest another one. Then, you should be able to figure out for yourself, over a two-day period, your titration level. The worst thing about edibles is that you can never take it back. Once you put it in, you’ve got to ride it out. I’d rather you be able to inch your way slowly.
When will your products hit the market?
I plan to have products on shelves in Berkeley and Oakland dispensaries by Dec. 15.
How does the MS community deal with you, and your beliefs about marijuana?
The MS community can’t stand me. This is the mentality of these assholes out there—and that’s exactly what they are. I have one of the six most pervasive chronic deadly diseases in this country. Most people who have MS die from the disease. The progression of the disease can be insidious. I began this as an MS patient. I’m still consuming today as an MS patient. And I’ll consume 10 years from now as an MS patient—until someone comes up with something that has the exact same effect for me and my disease. I almost was in a wheelchair four years ago. Cannabis wasn’t the only thing that got me back, but I’m here to tell you it’s the entire regimen that’s holding this disease at bay.
What is your regimen?
I take Western medication. I take Eastern medication. I take a combination of medications that nobody on this planet takes. Marijuana is nothing more than another weapon in my arsenal to fight my illness. There are 15 injectable drugs. I’ve been injecting every day for 15 years at a cost of $1,500 a month! I take another injectable every day, as well— more of a therapeutic injectable. It’s out there on the fringe. People think I’m crazy. I can care less. I’m on a vitamin regimen that is literally unheard of. I take 1,000 mg of vitamin D every day. I take magnesium every day. I can’t recommend this for anyone else because it takes three months to get used to. I’ve changed my entire diet. I exercise every day—once a day, sometimes twice a day. It depends on how much pain I’m in. I have to get up every single day and crack my body out. I do a stretching routine. I do a resistance routine. I’m 60 years old with MS. I should be “primary progressive,” which means a person that doesn’t walk. I should have rolled in here to do this interview.
What do you think of the CBD-only laws that have been passed in 16 states?
They’re the most ignorant, stupid laws ever. It’s like saying, “I’m going to feed you a steak, but I’m going to take all the meat out.” How do I get relief without the components that actually make those other cannabinoids work? It’s time for companies to use some of that money they’re making on cannabis and put it into research. We’re going to find out that there are probably 400 cannabinoids. Every other week another two come out. Just like we’ve done the genomic code for human beings, and figured out the interaction of certain genes, we need to do the same thing for this plant. That’s called science.
Where does legalization for adult use leave medical marijuana patients?
It’s left 99.9% of the patients on the battlefield. The ones who made it possible for people to make all this money are the patients like me who were the ones who were getting arrested just because we were trying to maintain some sort of balance in our lives. I got involved in this for medical reasons. I’m involved in it now for medical reasons. I’ll be involved in it until the day I die for medical reasons. I have family members and friends who get high all the time. It’s OK with me if that’s what they want to do. But what I put in my body, I have to have confidence that it is not going to do any damage to me.
At the CWCBExpo in Los Angeles in September, you said that you support legalization because it will grant access for more patients. Prior to that, you never really defended legalization, but will you now if it helps patients?
Absolutely. Anything that gives patients better access, I say, “Go for it.”
You also said, in Los Angeles: “I’m sick of celebrities who are in it for the money. Melissa Etheridge is the only one who isn’t.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have disparaged them that way. I don’t have a problem with them. This is a burgeoning business. It’s an industry that’s just beginning. But we can’t see past tomorrow. We’re all fighting for that one little foot of a corner on X Street and Y Street, so we get the 12 people who walk by. What happens when the FDA approves Sativex or another drug? Are we even thinking that way? Even if you’re selling it for rec, change the standard. Be involved!
Some people think the industry is excessively regulated.
Think about what happened at the end of Prohibition: We had a million moon-shiners across America. People were dying from alcohol that was distilled by some butthead who used something they shouldn’t have used. So, I don’t have a problem with the government when it comes to safety. The second you say you’re selling medical, then check with yourself because your mother may be buying it.
What do you think of New York’s Compassionate Care Act?
It’s an abomination. The state probably has six million patients that could have access and get some efficacy from cannabis. [There are currently less than 10,000 registered patients.]
Do you utilize the program?
No. It’s such a daunting process. Plus, I’m literally on the road 24 to 26 days a month, so I’m not here.
How do you think things are going with diversity in the marijuana community and industry?
No question, the industry is failing at practically every level in terms of diversity. With respect to the broader community, the problem isn’t the broader movement not welcoming diversity—the problem is that marijuana is a very different thing for people of color. Marijuana is something that people of color still regularly and disproportionately get arrested for.
Have you seen improvements?
Are there sufficient opportunities for minorities in the marijuana industry? If not, how can that be improved?
I think the opportunities vary by jurisdiction, but one wonders when you see each and every applicant of color turned down for a [cannabis] license in a particular jurisdiction. I think the question we have to ask is why more people of color aren’t choosing to enter this industry. Not unlike other industries, ours needs to reach out to communities of color if it wants to increase diversity.
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