How to Advocate for Medical Marijuana Legalization

By Ellen Lenox Smith, Columnist

I wish everyone in the U.S. had safe and affordable access to medical marijuana. Although legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, many of you still live in states where cannabis is illegal and may want to know what you can do to help expedite the process of legalization.

I thought it might be helpful to share our experience with you to help you turn your state into a more compassionate state.  My husband and I are the co-directors of medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation. We are very proud of the foundation for supporting the use of this medication and for taking a positive stand.

So here are our suggestions:

1) Google your state’s medical marijuana laws and become familiar with where your state stands.

2) If a bill has been submitted, find the names of the legislators that submitted it. Contact them and request a meeting, leave a phone message, write a letter or offer to testify. The goal is to begin establishing a relationship with this person, to let them know of your willingness to help get their legislation passed.  

3) Remember that you are in an illegal state, so you want to share the success you had while living or visiting a legal state. You do not want to take any chance getting arrested!

4) You will find that telling your story is the key. Try to find others who will also be able to share how this medication helped them too.  Share your medical condition, how it affects your daily life, and how using medical marijuana made a difference.

5) If you are able to attend a hearing, be sure to dress like you are going to work. Keep the language clean and show them that you are an everyday person trying to live life with major medical difficulties. You do not want to be perceived as a recreational drug user, so dress and act with a serious demeanor.

6) Along with sharing your story, you also need to discuss the qualifying conditions for treatment in the bill. Some states where marijuana is legal do not allow cannabis to be prescribed for chronic pain. If you don’t get the correct wording in there now for chronic pain, it may never qualify. Therefore, it is very important to include the following language in your bill:

A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following:

  • Cachexia or wasting syndrome
  • Severe, debilitating, chronic pain
  • Severe nausea
  • Seizures, including but not limited to those characteristic of epilepsy
  • Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to those characteristic of multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease
  • Agitation related to Alzheimer's Disease

If they want you to testify, prepare your speech before your arrive. Consider putting your main points on a card to talk from, instead of just reading from a paper out loud. Eye contact can really help.

Stay on point. Time is limited and you must respect this or they will shut you off to allow others time to speak. Share details about your medical condition, what effect it has on your daily living and how medical marijuana has made life more tolerable for you. Ask them to have a heart and help you and all the others in your state.

I always end with: “You never know what life might bring you next. I didn’t ask to have to cope with this condition. Please show your compassion.”

If there is no bill under consideration, then your work will be a bit different. You need find out if a bill had been submitted in the past and locate the sponsor. You should contact that person or persons and tell them you are ready to advocate and ask what they need from you to help get the bill reintroduced.

Whether you have a bill submitted or are working to get one started, you want to keep the topic alive in the media, so write letters to the editor, send a written story to news and radio stations, telling them you would like to share your story and why you want to see this legalized. You will be surprised how they can respond!

Another thing you can do is also contact us via the U.S. Pain Foundation to see if we have any ambassadors in your state that have expressed interest in advocating. We are happy to connect you if we have them listed. Email us at or

Good luck and may medical marijuana soon be legal for all.

Ellen Lenox Smith suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome and sarcoidosis. Ellen and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.

For more information about medical marijuana, visit their website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.