Montel Williams has been a familiar name associated with daytime talk television for years.
But over the past two decades, Williams has devoted countless hours to advocating for medical cannabis and its research.
In 1999, Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), which started his journey into cannabis advocacy.
Today, Williams took time to speak with moderator Charles Warner in the Wednesday opening session at the EMERGE Virtual Cannabis Conference.
Starting With CBD
Williams, a 22-year military veteran, turned to cannabis medicine in 2001 after a doctor expressed concern over side-effects from long-term opioid use to alleviate MS symptoms.
The doctor recommended that Williams try a particular type of medical cannabis that was CBD-rich.
In 2001, Williams began searching for CBD-rich cannabis, which he says some growers were trying to throw away.
Williams noted to Warner that growers in Humboldt County were trying to breed CBD out of plants in the 1970s in favor of boosting the THC percentage.
While growers continue to breed plants that produce ever-increasing THC levels, Williams says that there is a need for a broader spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.
“We should literally be looking at a broader spectrum,” said Williams. “Looking at a terpene-rich, flavonoid-rich plant that can have a broader spectrum that we can actually mix and mingle some of these cultivars together to elicit the response we want.”
After experiencing positive results from CBD, Williams says he thought it would be almost criminal for him not to share the relief he found with others.
Williams began his advocacy efforts in 2001, working with anyone who would listen to help get the word out about making cannabis medicine available to those who need it.
Williams’ advocacy work has taken him to many places over the years, including to Israel to meet with Raphael Mechoulam and discuss cannabis medicine.
“A lot of people don’t know Israel’s been way ahead of the curve because of the U.S. government funding,” said Williams. “Your taxpayer dollars that were being filtered into Israel back in the 80s and the 90s helped the U.S. government form its own application for, and grant itself its own patent on cannabinoids.”
Williams has been a prolific advocate over the past two decades, fighting for patient rights in Washington D.C. and the passage of medical cannabis legislation in key states.
Williams has also campaigned for military veterans to have medical cannabis access without jeopardizing their VA benefits.
“I have been an advocate for veterans since the day I took my uniform off,” said Williams. “Officially, I never took it off. And I feel very strongly that yes, in fact, we hope that the country opens up its eyes and allows for adult use across the board. But what we should do before we do anything is take the patients off the battlefield.”
Let’s Be Blunt with Montel and Lenitiv Scientific
In 2017, Williams founded Lenitiv Scientific to produce hemp and cannabis-derived products for both patients and adult users.
From start to finish, Williams is personally involved in the full development of each Lenitiv product.
Willams says that Lenitiv is preparing to release a new range of CBD and THC products with hopes of nationwide availability.
An experienced talk show host, Williams now produces a cannabis-focused podcast, which he says has something for everyone.
“I have a podcast that’s called Let’s Be Blunt with Montel where I have been very fortunate to able to interview some of the industry leaders, frontrunners, fore-thinkers in this industry,” said Williams. “Recently, I’ve had people on from Bonnie Goldstein to Mr. (James) Higdon who wrote the book The Corporate Mafia…I’ve been really digging deep and trying my best make sure that I provide as much education as I can in this space.”
Regarding the current state of COVID-19 in the United States, Williams said that even though the industry is anxious to reopen, there should be a primary focus on ending the pandemic first.
“As much as I am excited that the industry is ready to reopen in some ways and get back to the mission at hand—and that is working as hard as we can to get the nation to recognize the efficaciousness of cannabis as a plant-based medicine,” said Williams. “I’m also a little anxious and a little anxiety-ridden over the idea of some who don’t understand the importance of still staying the course and trying to bring this scourge to an end.”
Still, Williams says that the cannabis industry should be extremely proud that it has been one of the only “recession-proof” industries in the country during the pandemic.
Williams says that the cannabis industry has done a good job of bringing more consumers to the market who have been making larger purchases.
At the same time, Williams feels that the industry has “failed to lead the charge” in properly educating the public about how efficacious cannabis can be, even in battling COVID.
“There’s been a couple of peer-reviewed studies that have been put out lately that talk about the anti-inflammatory effect of certain cannabinoids and flavonoids when it comes to infections of the lung,” said Williams. “And even in the midst of COVID, we’re now finding that consuming cannabis can be in some ways a neuro-protectant…especially in the lung tissue, and there should be more research done that way.”
Williams says he is heartened by the progress that the industry has made, but also a bit disappointed because of the continued focus on the business-to-business aspect of cannabis rather than the business-to-consumer aspect of educating the public.
Williams pointed out that even though state governments have deemed cannabis an essential product and service, not everyone is in agreement, and there is work to be done.
“We have a newly-elected administration that talked a lot of smack about a year ago,” said Williams. “Trying to impress people and make sure that they earn their vote. Talking about how…the fact that we were going to have legislation coming down the pike in the first 100 days. But haven’t we hit that 100 days now? I haven’t seen any legislation come out of this administration yet. And remember, we still have an administration who is led by someone who still believes cannabis is a gateway drug.”
Williams believes that if the cannabis industry leads the charge the way it should, there will be more “troops out there on the front lines” demanding that politicians do the right thing.
Williams said that he is heartened that there are so many people trying to do the right thing, though he expressed disappointment at the number of companies that are just trying to “make a buck.”
“We know that in the capitalist society, that money wins,” said Williams, “And I’m afraid that those will be the winners. I’m hoping that we can entice and excite more and more of those people who are in this for the right reason. Remember, this is an industry that is as infantile as the Wright Brothers pushing a wooden plane down a hill. We haven’t started to scratch the surface. If you build it, the money will come, but let’s make sure we build it right.”