Montel Williams has had many successful careers, all in one lifetime. His first career was in the United States military, where, over 22 years, he earned three Meritorious Service Medals, two Navy Commendation Medals, and two Navy Achievement Medals. His second career was as an award-winning television personality. His most recent career turn stems from a medical diagnosis: In 1999, at the height of his television career, Williams began suffering from neuropathic pain caused by multiple sclerosis. Pharmaceuticals proved ineffective, so his doctor recommended medical cannabis as part of his treatment. That personal experience led to his becoming an advocate for access to medical cannabis. Last year, Williams founded Lenitiv Scientific, LLC, and the LenitivLabs brand of medical cannabis products, moving from patient and advocate to cannabis entrepreneur. Williams spoke to us about what needs to be done in the field of medical cannabis.
You have been an advocate for the medical use of marijuana for a long time. What prompted you to found a cannabis company?
As the industry sets its sights on adult use, we have to make sure that patients still have access to cannabis that meets their medical needs and that’s why I started LenitivLabs. Our products are formulated with patients’ needs in mind, and we’re never going to lose sight of that.
What role do you feel you can play, as an advocate or as an entrepreneur, in helping the cannabis industry establish a more scientific approach to quality and dosing?
I think on the business side, we’re going to do everything we can to help educate patients on issues like dosing. On the advocacy side, we all need to be open to the kind of common sense regulation and standards that need to be in place to help reluctant states get to yes.
Do you plan to get involved in research on cannabinoids and terpenes?
Absolutely. One of my goals in founding Lenitiv was to be in a position to fund meaningful cannabis research and we very much intend to do that, likely outside the United States, in the not too distant future.
I also plan on continuing to press the U.S. government to remove the administrative barriers it has placed on cannabis research. It’s important to appreciate the irony: On the one hand, the government says more research is needed before changing cannabis policy, while on the other hand it works hard to prevent meaningful cannabis research.
In your view, what steps should the industry take to advance clinical research on cannabis?
We need to start taking “yes” for an answer. To get federal law changed, which will greatly advance research, we need to step back and realize the states we haven’t been successful in yet aren’t Northern California. The industry then needs to step up and use the billions of dollars it generates to support top-notch research.
Interest by pharmaceutical companies in cannabis is increasing. Do you see this as a boon or a threat to the cannabis industry or patients?
It’s hard to say yet. Quite frankly, pharma is set up to produce x medication for y condition. The last time pharma tried to develop a marijuana-based drug it gave us Marinol, which in my experience, and in that of so many other patients, is useless. Just making one marijuana-based medicine won’t work, and cannabis isn’t ideally suited to pharma’s business model.
You have long been an advocate for military veterans to legally gain access to medical cannabis without losing benefits. After the failure last year to pass the Veterans Equal Access Amendment—which would have allowed Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend medical cannabis to patients—what is the next step in this fight? Are you hopeful that this situation will improve in the near future?
This is one of those things you can’t blame on the VA. You can’t have doctors employed by the federal government breaking federal law. This problem is Congress’s to solve and while it’s nice to see incremental progress using the power of the purse, the fact remains that the law itself needs changing. I think it’s critical that patients continue to make themselves heard on Capitol Hill. As more and more states, especially conservative states, reform their laws, it stands to reason that Congress will see the light. It’s truly a frustrating problem as many members of Congress on both sides have told me if they could vote by secret ballot on descheduling cannabis it would get done very quickly.
Montel Williams is the founder of Lenitiv Scientific, LLC, and the LenitivLabs brand. He delivered a plenary address titled “A Patient’s Perspective on the Endocannabinoid System” at the 2017 Cannabis Science Conference on Tuesday, August 29, 2017.
This interview was originally published in in the 2017 Cannabis Science Conference Final Program & Exhibitor Guide in partnership with LCGC and Spectroscopy magazines and Joshua Crossney of jCanna. The full program guide is available as an e-book here: http://www.chromatographyonline.com/lcgc-e-books-08-02-2017