“It’s one of the worst things in life — to watch a loved one go through the torturous effects of cancer and chemo. And it’s downright inhumane to deny any human being access to a plant that has for thousands of years been used as a treatment for debilitating diseases and illnesses.”
That’s Candice Marschke of Women Grow, recalling her mother’s fight with the stage-4 pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to her liver and bones. Her mother, Helen, wouldn’t agree to accept cannabis in any form “because of the stigma associated with marijuana,” Marschke explains. Not that it mattered: Georgia, where they were living at the time, did not allow patients to use cannabis, even for medicinal purposes. Some doctors suggested they go to California for cannabis, but her mother refused.
After only one chemotherapy treatment, Marschke recalls, “She had horrific side effects — fatigue, severe pain, mouth and throat sores, vomiting, burning, tremors and more. Had my mother had the option to use cannabis under a doctor’s care to relieve her painful symptoms of the cancer and the aftermath of the chemotherapy, she would not have had to endure those tortures.” Helen died in January 2002.
Mom’s illness provides impetus
As a result of her mom’s tragic experience, Marschke, an independent information-technology contractor, decided to become involved with www.unitedforcare.org, which supports the right of patients to use medical cannabis. (She also co-owns Bhang Travel in Deerfield Beach with Kathleen Isoldi.)
In 2013, Marschke, a Sunrise resident, started gathering signatures on petitions that supported allowing Florida patients to use medical cannabis. “I got tens of thousands of signatures,” she says. But in the 2014 election, voters said “no” to Amendment 2.
Marschke has become even more involved since then. In January 2016, she founded Women Grow – South Florida, a chapter of the national organization (www.womengrow.com), and serves as chapter chairwoman. She credits education with the passage of Amendment 2, which voters approved overwhelmingly last November: “Education is key. We have to bring knowledge about cannabis to the general public. And it’s especially important to educate our legislators.”
Men also welcome to Women Grow
About 35 to 50 people – men are invited, too – attend Women Grow – South Florida’s monthly meetings. Nationally, the 40 chapters attract about 1,100 attendees monthly. In addition to education, Women Grow provides another valuable service, thanks to its wide network, Marschke notes.
“We can put patients in touch with doctors in other states. We have chapters in states that are newly medical-cannabis legal, and in some where it isn’t legal. We seek to foster a kind of community where we’re vested in each other; thus the Women Grow motto: ‘Together, we have more power.’”
Marschke’s biggest success so far? “Bar none, it’s three women in our chapter who have come since day one — one with seizures; one with rheumatoid arthritis; and one, who had been in the military, with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” she says effusively. “Because of Women Grow’s national network, we were able to help them connect with a cannabis-friendly doctor locally and get treatment in legal states.”
Goals for her Women Grow chapter
Three short-term goals are important to her, Marschke says: to continue to grow a diverse chapter membership, to invite more cannabis-industry experts to speak at meetings, and to increase the number of members. What about three long-term goals?
“Have the chapter flourish, not just exist,” she says. “Be the community’s go-to source for all things cannabis. And bring in the ‘Golden Girls’ – I would love to see older retired professionals coming in so they can become educated on cannabis for their own health, while becoming spokespersons for their communities regarding the amazing health and healing properties of cannabis.” (The Golden Girls aired from 1985 to 1992. In the TV sitcom, four senior women, including Bea Arthur and Betty White, share a home in Miami.)
And, of course, Marschke and her group will keep focusing on the key ingredient to convincing people that cannabis is a beneficial addition to medicine: “Education is such an important part of Women Grow, and why our work continues.”
She and business partner Isoldi carry the “education” theme to international levels. Bhang Travel (pronounced “ba-hong” or “bang,” depending on your preference) specializes in cannabis-friendly destinations. Options include cannabis cruises. “We bring in speakers and visit various places. We combine education with having a good time,” Marschke says.