Women are the biggest users of medical marijuana (MMJ). But on the professional side, the industry is still dominated by men. In this series, MedicateOH is talking with women in the industry about their roles, experiences, and predictions for the future of MMJ in Ohio.

This week, MedicateOH spoke with Mary Alleger, a medical marijuana activist.

Mary Alleger, a medical marijuana activist

Mary Alleger first found cannabis as an escape.

A victim of childhood abuse, she suffered anxiety, depression, and other symptoms that only later were discovered to be long-term post-traumatic stress disorder. As a teen, she coped as best she was able, which included the use of pills and cocaine.

Alleger’s wake up call came as she assessed her life. “All of my friends started getting addicted to harder drugs, getting arrested, and getting evicted. When I realized that I did not want to live that way, I decided to hide in my room at home and just smoke as much cannabis as humanly possible,” she said.

Twelve years later, cannabis continues to help her. “I learned why I kept turning to cannabis and why I thought it was working: BECAUSE IT WAS!”

Her relief in finding treatment came with burdensome knowledge. Still classified as an illegal drug, Alleger felt compelled to fight for extended rights so that the benefits of cannabis could be made available to everyone that it could help. “I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to do something about the prohibition of cannabis, but I had no idea how,” she said. This led to her work in activism.

Alleger answered some questions for MedicateOH about her role as a MMJ activist and the program in the state of Ohio. The exchange has been edited for length and clarity.

MedicateOH: You describe yourself as a MMJ activist. How did you get started?

MA: When I saw on Facebook that someone was circulating a petition to legalize medical marijuana and industrial hemp, I signed up to volunteer. I started with Ohio Rights Group in 2014 as an individual volunteer and ended my time as Franklin County Captain. I know how important this plant is and I know how much it helps people. I cannot sit still, knowing that people are suffering, when relief could be had.  I spent the next few years independently advocating for cannabis while going to school full time and raising my son. Then I picked petitioning back up in 2018 with Ohio Families for Change (OFFC) and their recreational cannabis ballot measure, as the Franklin County Area Director. I have continued to advocate since OFFC dissolved in November 2018 and try to spread as much knowledge as I can.

MedicateOH: What does activism on MMJ look like? How can people get involved?

MA: I go to as many cannabis-centered events as I can to absorb all the information I can. I have started shadowing some people at the Statehouse to learn how to lobby for cannabis reform. I try to get to as many public hearings regarding cannabis as possible so that I can spread the information amongst the community and to grow knowledge on the subject.

Activism comes in many forms. Testifying at your local city council meeting about decriminalization, attending/testifying at public hearings held by any office, collecting signatures, raising awareness, being unapologetic in your stance, lobbying your legislators, attending a protest, march or rally… the list continues. Every piece of the puzzle is equally as important as the next. There is something for everyone to participate in, even if you are just the IT guy who runs the ads for organizations on Facebook.

Anyone who is passionate about the ending of cannabis prohibition or just passionate about the medicinal use of the plant can find a way to participate in the movement. If someone wanted to help, they can volunteer their time with Compassionate Alternatives or The Ohio Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, join the Appalachia of Ohio NORML chapter, call or write their legislators, have a meeting with a legislator, submit a white paper to change the laws on cannabis at the statehouse, lobby a pro-cannabis bill, or join the Sensible Movement Coalition to help collect signatures and pass local cannabis decriminalization laws around Ohio. Someone could even just use a social media platform to spread awareness or education. Even if all you do is spread awareness and education within your own household or social circle, you are making a difference. Every voice counts.

I think women are drawn to cannabis because we are nurturers and healers. Women want to heal their loved ones and are inclined to do what they can to make that happen. I also believe there is some kind of cosmic female connection between women and the female cannabis plant, that draws us towards it.


MedicateOH: What would you still like to see change around MMJ in Ohio?

MA: The medical marijuana program in Ohio has a long way to go to be satisfactory, in my opinion. One major concern I have is the lack of patient protections. Employers are still allowed to discriminate against those who have a recommendation and use cannabis for their condition. This limits a person’s ability to be gainfully employed and manage their symptoms at the same time. I think if someone is able to go to work on opiates or any other prescription that could affect the cognitive and/or mechanical abilities of that person, then cannabis should not be an issue. There should also be protections for students of any age who are cannabis users, to be able to medicate during school hours. Another big issue is the lack of qualifying conditions. […] To only have 21 on the list is ridiculous. It is almost like the state has a bias towards certain illnesses.

People should be able to choose cannabis instead of opiates when they are being prescribed something for pain. People should be able to grow their own cannabis to save money and to know where their medicine came from. If we can grow our own food, we should be allowed to grow our own medicine. […] There is still a limited supply of products in the dispensaries. There are not enough dispensaries open. There are not enough dispensaries that are going to be open, there should be at least one for each of the 88 counties.

MedicateOH: What do you think draws women to advocate for this issue?

MA:  I think women are drawn to cannabis because we are nurturers and healers. Women want to heal their loved ones and are inclined to do what they can to make that happen. I also believe there is some kind of cosmic female connection between women and the female cannabis plant, that draws us towards it. Women have been accused of being a witch and they were burned or hanged for using medicinal plants, so I think there is some type of DNA connection to understanding how public perception of a plant can be skewed… However, that is just my theory!

MedicateOH: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

MA: The most important thing anyone can do is spread education about cannabis. Keep learning. Keep reading. Keep researching. Keep pushing. Provide a voice to the voiceless and never stop talking!

Linda Baird is a writer and educator living in Columbus, Ohio. She is a regular contributor to 614 Magazine, as well as a consultant for non-profit organizations.