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Medical cannabis is gaining popularity as a treatment alternative for a variety of health issues. The stigma attached to cannabis is still present, but as more research is done, people can see the positives associated with the medicinal plant. Here, Joseph Mazza Jr., Founder and CEO of Compassionate Clinics of America (CCOA), discusses the organization's role in patient affairs, cannabis education, and advocacy work for the industry.
Can you tell us about your organization Compassionate Clinics of America?
Joseph Mazza Jr.: Compassionate Clinics of America (CCOA) is a full-service patient wellness clinic offering the opportunity for qualifying individuals to become licensed patients so that they can purchase and grow medical cannabis. We offer virtual and in-person educational services, virtual and in-person events (grow classes, producing your own medicine seminars, as well as things like cooking with cannabis). We also offer private patient consultations, working with patients to determine product selections, consumption method, and proper dosing. Additionally, we offer continuing education, dispensary certification, and consultation for industry professionals.
How was it founded?
Mazza: Our story began in 2017 with a simple goal to help people in our neighborhood improve their health and quality of life. Having seen the positive impact cannabis has had on them, we decided to open the doors of our Deerfield Clinic on December 20, 2018. With enthusiasm to spread the word, people quickly discovered our services, and we have since developed a reputation for providing the very best care, education, and products for patients seeking alternative treatments. Today, we proudly serve patients across multiple states! We have seen the capabilities of this medicine firsthand and know the real difference it can make in people’s lives. Therefore, it is our mission to inspire hope in others and contribute to the overall health of our community by providing the best care, service, and education to every patient in a kind and compassionate manner. Above all else, the commitment to our patients goes far beyond their application process. With a focus toward holistic health and wellness, we are dedicated to helping people achieve therapeutic success through education, workshops events, and a wide array of services provided by our team of experienced doctors and professionals.
What are the goals?
Mazza: Our major goals are:
How many states do you work in?
Mazza: Six: Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Missouri. Through our continued expansion in September, we are now also in Michigan, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Additionally, our expansion will continue until we have covered all states with a medical cannabis program.
What inspired you to become involved in the medical cannabis industry?
Mazza: Growing up playing hockey and having suffered numerous concussions and injuries, I began researching cannabis medicine to manage the damage that sport had on my body and mind. After delving into the available research on the compounds in cannabis and understanding which cultivars could help with my symptoms of brain fog, inflammation, and pain, I began using cannabis as medicine.
How do you help patients on their medical cannabis journeys? Do you offer educational or medical services?
Mazza: We have seen the capabilities of this medicine firsthand and know the real difference it can make in people’s lives. Above all else, the commitment to our patients goes far beyond their application process. With a focus towards holistic health and wellness, we are dedicated to helping people achieve therapeutic success through education, workshops events, consultation, and a wide array of services provided by our team of experienced doctors and professionals.
Compassionate Clinics of America believes that benefits can be found from many alternative health practices, and we consider medical cannabis to be among one of the best in alternative healing. We are committed to healing and wellness, while being devoted to the best interests of our patients, associates, and our community. Our organization strives to achieve excellence in every aspect of the patient experience.
It is our top priority to ensure our patients have all pertinent medical cannabis information, as well as educating them on the choice to use medical cannabis as an alternative to traditional treatments. We are committed to staffing our organization with experienced doctors and associates who are there to assist our patients in full compliance with each state’s medical cannabis laws.
How can medical professionals get involved with your organization?
Mazza: We are open to any forum or discussion regarding medical cannabis. Our biggest hurdle right now, as an industry, is removing the stigma surrounding medical cannabis. One voice says a lot, many collaborative voices are BETTER. We welcome the opportunity for any medical professional to reach out and discuss the benefits, rules, or regulations with one of our doctors or company leaders.
Does the stigma surrounding cannabis affect your work with patients and other entities? How do you battle it?
Mazza: Although there is ample evidence of effective use for medical reasons, there is still stigma attached to the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. This underlying stigma causes stress and isolation for patients and can often force potential patients to postpone or altogether forego treatment due to fear of being ostracized.
Even though times appear to be changing and the idea of cannabis use both for medicinal and recreational purposes is becoming more acceptable, many patients and potential patients still suffer from stigmatization and the fear of being ostracized by society.
The best way to fight the ongoing stigma, if not overcome it, is at its simplest level by continuing efforts to legalize the drug. As more people become accustomed to the idea that cannabis is not “the evil weed,” they are more likely to understand (at minimum) its considerable medical efficacy. This alone will combat the stigma that medical users face. Further, funding more research about how the drug can effectively combat the worst symptoms of (if not even cure) even chronic conditions no other drugs can treat, will also go far in ending discrimination and stigma of those who use it.
Ongoing educational efforts to inform the wider public is also a major priority to help put an end to cannabis stigma.
Are you involved in any advocacy work?
Mazza: As members of Americans for Safe Access, this allows the opportunity to be involved in the policy making process. This helps ensure that all patients have safe and legal access to medical cannabis. We have also sponsored numerous veterans’ events, where we had the opportunity to educate, certify at no cost, and work with the men and women who sacrifice to protect our country. Also, we are in the process of putting together a grant program for underprivileged qualifying patients. This program’s mission is to provide subsidized clinical treatment including group therapy, yoga, reiki, meditation, patient certification, strain genie DNA testing kits, massage therapy, and educational courses along with a monthly stipend which would off-set a portion of their monthly medical cannabis costs for those patients who prefer medical cannabis to opioids.
How do you deal with different state-by-state cannabis regulations?
Mazza: Because medical cannabis is not federally approved, each state is unique unto its own rules and regulations. Those states involved in the medical cannabis program have the same goal; allow patients to utilize medical cannabis as a treatment for their ailments. CCOA must work within the boundaries of that specific state’s laws. While there are many different nuances per state, we have a robust education program that prepares our team to answer any question that a patient may have. What sets us apart from others, is if we don’t have the answer, we will find it or work directly with the different states issuing authority until we have the information we need to answer the question.
What are your plans for Compassionate Clinics of America in the future?
Mazza: Our plans include expanding our operations to all medical cannabis states, continue to develop our educational programs for patients and physicians, and the development of a grant program to subsidize patients who qualify but are financially unable to use cannabis as medicine due to cost. There is no reason why ANY patient who experiences serious side effects from opioids or other pharmaceuticals and prefers to be treated with medical cannabis shouldn’t have access to such. We will continue our work with advocacy groups to help shape cannabis legislation. We are also considering the addition of treatment options like psilocybin to our list of services. This of course will have to wait until legislation catches up.
Is there anything further you would like to add?
Mazza: For all knowledge, education, and access to medical cannabis, CCOA is the one clinic that is helping patients and industry professionals with all their needs. It is our desire to be the gold standard in medical cannabis treatment, education, research, and advocacy.