In Michigan, a group of pro-cannabis businesses are urging medical marijuana patients in Michigan to share their experiences through a social media campaign.
The campaign was created by three Michigan-based, women-owned businesses, and is seeking responses on Sept. 12, the next meeting of the state's Medical Marijuana Licensing Board. The effort aims to reduce the stigma surrounding cannabis use, by encouraging people to share their positive experiences with the plant.
On Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, responses will use the hashtags #bebraveforcannabis #bebrave and #bettertogether. Canna Media Works, Canna Communication and Greengate Health are partners in the campaign.
A release from the firms states that many people are reluctant to speak publicly about their use of the medical marijuana due to fear of legal recourse, job loss or judgement from their family, co-workers or friends.
"Our state has the second largest medical marijuana patient registry in the country, yet many elected officials don't realize it, because not enough people are coming out and sharing the stories about how it has changed their lives," said Jamie Cooper, of Canna Media Works. "Many times it's due to fear of legal issues or being judged by family and friends. In order for this to change, we have to speak up and present a unified voice."
Though the number of patient cardholders has increased 76 percent since 2012, recent state data shows that just over 2 percent of Michigan residents have a medical marijuana card.
That data shows there are 218,556 patients with a medical marijuana card as of Sept. 30, 2016, plus 38,057 caretakers who have a card so they can obtain marijuana for a designated patient.
In Kalamazoo County, there were 4,081 patients and 758 caregivers in 2016. There were 8,754 patients and 1,366 caregivers in Kent County.
Roberta King is the co-founder of Canna Communications, a new public relations firm specializing in the cannabis industry. She had previously served in communications roles at Mercy General Health Partners, Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the Grand Rapids Art Museum.
In August, she formed the firm with Dottie V. Rhodes, former owner of Grand Rapids design firm Plenty. King said that because Michigan is in a state of transition in regulating marijuana and implementing new legislation, it's important for the voices of marijuana patients to be heard.
"Once people are able to talk about their medical marijuana use, they often find community and support," King said. "We hope the campaign will help reinforce a sense of community."
Part of the effort educate the public about the benefits of cannabis use for health and personal well-being, and encourage people who don't use cannabis but support other's freedom of choice to make their views public.
Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana ballot measure in 2008, which removed state penalties for registered patients to buy, grow and use small amounts of marijuana.
In September 2016, Snyder signed the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act, which gives Michigan cities the option to allow five types of medical marijuana facilities to be established in their jurisdictions.
Two other bills allowed for the manufacture and use of marijuana-infused products by qualified patients, and created a seed-to-sale tracking system to track all medical marijuana.
Under the new laws, applications for one of five licenses can be filed starting Dec. 15 -- 360 days after the facilities licensing act went into effect on Dec. 20, 2016.
The law protects people who have obtained a license from the state from criminal penalties under state and local law. The law defines who can apply for a license and places restrictions on each type of facility.
Marijuana is recognized as a legitimate medical treatment for some ailments in Michigan, but the Drug Enforcement Administration states the plant has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.