Sue Taylor remembers a time when propaganda promoting the fear of marijuana was at a fever pitch — she admits that she used to think cannabis was “just as bad” as heroin or cocaine.
“I never had any intention of getting involved in the cannabis industry. You know, ‘Reefer Madness’ really did a number on me and my generation.” Taylor says. “I was taught that it was a very bad drug that made people do bad things — especially Black people. And, at the time, I believed it.”
That was before a conversation changed the direction of her life forever and began her transformation from a retired Catholic school principal to a dedicated leader, fearless trailblazer and passionate advocate of medical cannabis access for seniors.
It was about 10 years ago when her son, then a student at Oaksterdam University — Oakland’s cannabis trade school — told her he’d figured out a way to fund her dream of opening a holistic medical center for seniors where patients could practice yoga, meditate, receive acupuncture and participate in a nutritional program. She had no idea he would point her towards the cannabis industry.
“He told me all of it could be funded by marijuana. Of course, I didn’t buy any of that, but I told him to send me the information that had convinced him of what I thought was an absolutely ridiculous claim,” she says.
Or so she thought. The information her son showed her, and the people she started meeting, convinced her otherwise.
“My son had always been a professional — a businessman who did things by the book — and now he was talking about this marijuana stuff? I was shocked, but I wanted to be open-minded,” she says.
In Oakland, she was given a reintroduction to cannabis as a restorative botanical wonder capable of healing ailments, reversing symptoms and improving the quality of life of suffering patients; it was the complete opposite of what she had thought she knew about cannabis her entire life.
“I became a true believer: I saw the healing, I saw what this amazing medicine can do first hand. It wasn’t something I read — it was something I witnessed,” she says. “I could not turn my back on it after that.”
Sue Taylor at Harborside Health
She started volunteering as the senior outreach specialist at Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, where she developed a program designed to not only help the elderly access cannabis, but help them understand their cannabis treatment options.
She says it was while she was at Harborside that she began to see just how serious the need for senior-focused cannabis education was in her community.
“People my age are sticklers for following the rules: We pay our bills on time, we go to work and leave at the same time every day and we do what we’re supposed to do. We are just so used to listening to our doctors because we have been taught to trust them and following their directions no matter what they say,” she says. “We will take our two pills and call them in the morning, but continue on with the treatment regardless of the side effects. It’s a chain reaction that makes taking two pills turn into taking 20. I just knew something had to change.”
Taylor says it wasn’t effective to just tell seniors that cannabis could help them feel better, it was about making sure they had the best information available to make the best decisions for themselves and their health.
“Seniors need to be educated about the efficacy of cannabis for their own well-being. They need to be educated on the different ways to ingest, the different forms of medicine that are available to them and which medicines help certain ailments — they need to know why they’re taking it and exactly what it does,” she says. “Many of them don’t know that there are other ways to use cannabis that are considered common knowledge among younger people, like bath salts, tinctures, topicals, dermal patches, teas, honey and more. It’s not just about going out trying to smoke weed for these [seniors] — most of them just want relief. For some, though, it can be the difference between life or death.”
Fueled by her personal mission to bring wellness to seniors, Taylor is now planning on opening a dispensary in Berkeley, California that focuses specifically on the needs of the senior community, a population she feels has been forgotten and overlooked.
Out of six applicants, she was unanimously chosen by the Berkeley City Council to open the city’s fourth dispensary — iCANN Health Center. She plans on having a multi-cultural, multi-generational staff to assist the community she is committed to providing medicine for.
“I’ve been in talks with the city council about expediting our building permit, because I’d like to have the facility open before 2018,” she says. “So, I am committed to doing all of the footwork to help them understand the importance of having it open as soon as possible.”
Though her journey from concerned mother to being approved to open up a cannabis collective was full of life-changing experiences that altered her perspective and career path, it was also riddled with fear, financial issues and other obstacles.
But, she persisted: As a black woman in a predominantly-white, male-dominated industry, she felt that it was important for her to be intentional about her brand and how she was perceived in the business.
“Was I scared? Hell yes. But I would not let fear get the best of me. I would not let anything stop me. I even continued even when the finances were a struggle. And then there was the internal battle,” she says. “‘Goody Two-Shoes Sue’ was going against everything I had learned and all I had known up to that point in my life, but something from deep within wouldn’t allow me to deny the power of seeing cannabis oil heal people with Stage 4 liver cancer, pancreas cancer, stomach cancer, brain tumors — you name it. I had to go forward and share the truth about this healing medicine.”
She credits her unquestionable professionalism in this industry — as well as being a former Catholic school principal and her position on the board of the Alameda County Advisory Commission on Aging — for allowing her to bring a lot of people to the table who she believes would otherwise be embarrassed, but are willing to come forward with her because of who she is, what she represents and whom she is devoted to serving.
Helping seniors get the care they deserve
“Seniors are the forgotten ones. There is such a lack of respect for seniors in this country and in this culture. I aim to bring that respect for our elders back. I believe in total well-being — body, mind, spirit and nutrition — and giving seniors back their wholeness because they are the wisdom keepers,” she says. “They are the ones that have the knowledge, and we are missing out on that because they are on all these pharmaceutical drugs, all these opiates and all this crap that keeps their minds away from who they really are and the insight they have to offer their communities. The world is being robbed of that.”
Still, though health is her main concern, for Taylor, what’s most important is that seniors do all their cannabis treatment under the direction of their medical doctor. She explains that it’s common that when patients begin to feel better because of their cannabis use, they have a tendency to reduce or to stop taking all their prescribed pills altogether, but it’s important to let the doctor make those changes.
For seniors in states that don’t allow medical or adult-use cannabis, Taylor still suggests not self-adjusting prescribed medicine intake, but instead letting your doctor decide based upon your improved health and reduction of symptoms.
“Patients need to get their doctors on board and educate them, because they either don’t know this life-saving information or they’re afraid of it and losing their license,” she says. “When they try to figure out what you’ve been doing differently, the evidence will point to cannabis and it will be undeniable. So, that’s the key component: teaching one another.”
As someone who went from believing the fear-mongering tenets of “Reefer Madness” to becoming a major figure in the struggle for seniors’ access to cannabis, Taylor is proof that firsthand experience and access to information have the capacity to change the perspective of even the most staunch sceptics of cannabis medicine.
“What I’ve learned in the last 10 years has been unbelievable and remarkable. I truly believe my work in the cannabis industry is divinely inspired because I would never have chosen this path myself,” she says. “Many are called, but few respond. Those of us who have chosen to heed the call are the responders.”
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