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For more than 20 years, Carla Ashburn has volunteered to help teach the children at Spring Lake United Methodist Church in Hernando County, Fla. The kids love “Miss Carla” and she loves ministering to them. Also a savvy businesswoman, Carla worked as general manager of the local Staples office supplies store for more than a decade. Then about three years ago she learned about CBD and the emerging field of medical marijuana.
“During the last presidential election campaign, I met a former DEA agent at the Republican National Convention in Tampa and we became friends,” Carla said. “He later called me and said he knew I was a good businesswoman and had a business proposition for me.”
In November 2016, Florida voters overwhelmingly supported amending the state’s constitution to allow for the legal use of medical marijuana. Carla’s friend proposed they start a consulting business for doctors to educate them about all things CBD and medical cannabis.
“My journey is that I had tried it [marijuana] a couple of times in high school and didn’t like it,” Carla said. “It made me paranoid. I was against it. It was so not me. I’m the last person that people would think would be in this business.”
Sensing the enormity of the business potential but feeling a little bit morally and spiritually conflicted, Carla decided to learn all she could before making a decision.
“I needed to see whether or not I could believe in it,” Carla said. “I spent months educating myself. I learned how certain medical conditions really are helped by medical marijuana. I also learned there are many, many health benefits from CBD. And I prayed and prayed about it.”
What Carla realized is that not many medical professionals had the time she had to do their own research. Suddenly, Florida law said doctors could recommend marijuana as a viable medical treatment for certain conditions. However, the physicians didn’t know how to do it, what dosages and strains were appropriate for which diagnosis, and how CBD can put the body back into homeostasis. Carla opened MMCare of Florida as a consulting business to help physicians learn about medical marijuana and how to prescribe it. From there, the company grew into consulting services for patients as well. Today, MMCare of Florida offers a CBD storefront, as well as consulting services for consumers and the medical community.
“We are the cannabis coach,” Carla said. “Operationally, we keep evolving and evolving. We consult with physicians, keep them up to date with the laws and regulations, help them organize patient records, and in the beginning even offered security in the days when banks would not accept the monies made from medical marijuana. Then we added the patient side and brought in the CBD storefront. We keep growing.”
Carla became so passionate about how she feels she is helping people that she gave up her longtime position at Staples and now works MMCare full time. Any spiritual and ethical questions she had disappeared with the many health improvements she sees in the patients who come to her for advice.
“Initially, I think I tried to hide it, but now I love educating people and helping them,” Carla said. “Even a lot of doctors still don’t know about the endocannabinoid system. They don’t get taught about it in school. You think the doctors are the experts, but they aren’t. We help them become knowledgeable so they can help their patients.”
Because only medical marijuana is legal in Florida, patients have to have a doctor’s diagnosis to apply for a medical marijuana card. Carla and her team help doctors and patients navigate that journey. Doctors pay a monthly fee for MMCare’s services based on the number of patients. Consumers pay $275 for a new doctor consultation, which Carla says helps patients understand which conditions qualify for a medical marijuana, how to apply for the card, and what might work for them. While Carla does not offer medical advice or recommended dosages, she can arm patients with the knowledge they need to feel comfortable, knowing what questions to ask their doctors and what to do when they walk into a dispensary for the first time.
“It is all about education, education, education,” Carla said. “People who take blood thinners, for example, need to know they should not also take CBD or it can interfere with their medication. People need to know whether the CBD they choose actually has CBD in it and whether it is free from toxic metals and other ingredients that should not be in it. They need to know the difference between CBD and marijuana.”
The first dispensary in Hernando County opened its doors this month, and Carla says she is excited to help every patient who comes to MMCare find the right path to wellness.
“In the beginning, I think I felt more conflicted,” Carla said. “I prayed about it and told myself, ‘Well, I am just assisting the doctors with their patients. I am not touching the product.’ The more educated I become about it, the more I believe in it for people who need it medically.
“I take each patient as a personal challenge to figure out exactly what will help them,” Carla said. “I just had a lady who has MS and other issues come in and say she needed medical marijuana because she couldn’t sleep. I asked her if she had ever tried CBD and suggested she start with a CBD tincture first. She tried it and said she is now sleeping so much better.”
As for the Wednesday night church kids, Carla still loves to teach them about Jesus. She continues to serve at her church and says most congregants have been understanding about her new business. Some may not agree, but those who have asked her about it seem willing to learn.
“I feel like I am truly taking care of people, helping them navigate a difficult process and bridging the gap of the lack of knowledge,” Carla said. “When people feel better, they can start to enjoy their lives again.”
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