This is big news for marijuana activists around the world: Michigan Compassion, a Taylor-based medical marijuana nonprofit, has received a major award from Google Grants to support its education efforts. Not only does it help the organization, it adds another layer of legitimacy in an area that had formerly been pushed into the shadows of society.
“Michigan Compassion is a recipient of a Google Grants award,” reads a letter Google provided the organization. “The Google Grants program supports registered nonprofit organizations that share Google’s philosophy of community service to help the world in areas such as science and technology, education, global public health, the environment, youth advocacy and the arts. Google Grants is an in-kind advertising program that awards free online advertising to nonprofits via Google AdWords.”
The value of the grant isn’t clear. Heidi Parikh, co-founder and president of Michigan Compassion, says she can’t comment on the details of the grant, but published reports have estimated it from a low of $120,000 to as high as $250,000 in annual credits for the life of Michigan Compassion — over the years it could be millions. That’s a lot of value for a small nonprofit with three staffers and dozens of volunteers. Michigan Compassion is a registered 501(c)(3) federal nonprofit. In fact, the organization is included in the Southeastern Michigan Combined Federal Campaign Charity Listing of organizations — along with the Boy Scouts of America, Red Cross and the American Cancer Society — that government employees are encouraged to support through payroll deduction.
I was at the meeting a couple of years ago when Parikh announced that the organization had received its nonprofit status. That happened to be the evening that Irv Rosenfeld, one of a handful of patients in the federal medical marijuana program who receive 300 free marijuana cigarettes each month, spoke to the group. It was a great event for both reasons.
“One of the main reasons we really worked toward getting our 501(c)(3) status was so we could be a legitimate legal organization moving forward in Michigan,” Parikh says. “Getting grants and being able to meet with staff at medical facilities are things only a registered nonprofit could do. Only a 501(c)(3) organization could receive this grant. We are treated and respected like any federally recognized nonprofit in the community. Almost every cause has a legitimate nonprofit to move it forward in the community as far as education and awareness are concerned.”
Parikh’s husband, Amish, writes grants for Michigan Compassion and credits the example of Rosenfeld, who suffers from Multiple Congenital Cartilaginous Exostis and has been receiving government marijuana since 1980, with convincing the CFC Charity Listing to include Michigan Compassion. The organization will be able to do presentations at charity fairs for groups such as the U.S. Post Office to educate workers about their services in an effort to solicit donations.
The nonprofit focuses on increasing awareness and understanding of medical cannabis through education, information and advocacy. Its website includes such information for patients as a discussion of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act and what to expect from a caregiver. There is information for medical professionals such as links to scientific studies on marijuana for medical purposes, and discussion of the human cannabinoid receptors that substances in marijuana interact with. It even scrolls headlines of the latest marijuana news. Michigan Compassion has reached out to doctors and medical facilities to help educate them about medical marijuana.
“What they don’t understand is that it’s not about smoking,” Parikh says. “There’s this little cloud above their heads with this lit-up joint. We’ve come so far. There are gel tabs, topicals and other things that are being created. It’s happening; it’s legitimate. We’re at the forefront as a legitimate organization. … Our vision is to see it rescheduled, researched and readily available in its natural form.”
Federal reclassification of marijuana is the Holy Grail for medical marijuana activists. Its status as a Schedule 1 drug “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” blocks research for most organizations in the United States.
In addition to the financial value of the Google grant, it shows evidence that a major, worldwide corporation is ready to engage with medical marijuana. In the past, Google has had strict and restrictive policies regarding marijuana advertising. If there is no serious blowback against Google for this grant, it may have opened the door for other big corporations to take a kinder eye toward medical marijuana. It’s pretty clear that the more real information people get regarding medical marijuana, the more they favor it. As open discussion of marijuana becomes more prevalent, recent polls show about three out of four Americans support legalizing medical marijuana, and about half of Americans support legalizing it for recreational use. It’s a totally different environment from decades past when there was little actual information about the substance and it couldn’t even be discussed beyond an emotional level.
“It’s all about being treated equal,” Parikh says. “I came from a business mentality, don’t let your emotions get in the way. Don’t run your business based on emotions.”
Doctors have been in a bad position too. They’ve had no training or information about marijuana other than the anecdotal. And some have been threatened by medical institutions to keep them from engaging with marijuana. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who led the opposition against the MMMA even before he was elected, has been fighting medical marijuana tooth and nail. He’s intimidated doctors by declaring that anyone involved with it is still subject to federal prosecution. There are other interested parties enhancing that line of thought.
“The pharmaceutical reps are telling doctors that if they prescribe marijuana they will be in trouble with the law,” Parikh says. “We visit doctors’ offices, talk to them respectfully and let them know that they are not going to go to jail for recommending marijuana.”
The Google grant will be useful for medical marijuana patients in other ways. When someone does a Google search for medical marijuana, information from Michigan Compassion will appear closer to the top of search results.
“When someone has cancer and they’re researching online, maybe they’ve heard about medical marijuana, anything they type in that asks that question, the information is way down low,” says Parikh. “The grant will optimize searches by bringing it up to the top. It will help those who are looking for what we educate on and to find us quickly. We educate on the MMMA. The consequences for a wrong interpretation of it are so strong; we want to make sure that people stay safe. It’s very hard to interpret law. The police can’t interpret it. If a 60-year-old couple that has never been involved with marijuana begins to grow, and they get arrested, look at the consequences they face. We teach people. We don’t want to see people arrested for a mistake.”
Make no mistake about it. It’s never too late to become educated about something new. Michigan Compassion can be found online at mycompassion.org.
Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].