Yogajuana: How local marijuana advocates are working to break the stigma

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You might be familiar with the practice and poses of yoga, but have you ever heard of yogajuana? 

For millennia, yoga has been used to heal the mind, body, and spirit. Some use it for strength training or flexibility, but now, some members of Southwest Florida’s medical marijuana community are taking yoga to a deeper level by incorporating cannabis.

“We come to yoga to work on our own individual areas, whether we are trying to let go of something or conjure up something, heal something, so that’s really the concept,” said Tara Mina, a yoga instructor and cannabis advocate, also known as “Yoga Mama.” “It’s not so much about cannabis, it’s about treating the symptoms of why we choose to use cannabis.”

Members who attend Mina’s private yogajuana classes are prescribed medical marijuana. They don’t sit around in a circle and smoke a joint or pass around edibles. One of the main points of yogajuana is breaking the stigma that still exists around marijuana use. 

Mina recommends participants use their cannabis on their own terms as prescribed, then use yoga to hone in on the benefits. 

“I think it helps you center yourself a little bit, makes you a little more introspective,” she said.

Jaime Renee Cruz, a medical marijuana patient, was in the hospital for five months fighting for her life. Her autoimmune issues were attacking her body and as she fought to stay alive, she didn’t want to get addicted to opiates.

So, her pain management physician suggested she use cannabis.

“I wouldn’t be standing here today in a yoga class, much less being able to touch my toes, without cannabis,” said medical marijuana patient, Jaime Renee Cruz.

It was only the beginning of her journey with cannabis. 

“At the time, I was plagued by stigma, having been in the medical field for 25 years,” Cruz said. “My oldest daughter was familiar with cannabis and she always used to wanna say ‘mom’s high!’ And that really disturbed me for a good while cause I was plagued by stigma.”

Cruz said one way she broke the stigma for herself was by thinking of marijuana as what she was using it for – medicine. 

“I took each symptom that I was treating and in my brain and I compared it to what pharmaceutical I would be using and how often I would take that,” she said. “So if I had to use cannabis every two hours I would be accepting of that because if not, I would have to use something else every two hours.” 

Now, Cruz is an advocate for cannabis. She started a company, focused on education, called 420RX. On social media, she has a following of more than 12,000 people.

“I did a lot of edible videos to help patients microdose their cannabis,” Cruz said. “You can microdose and function as an adult without concern. It’s the issue when people know because of the stigma… which is why we’re working so hard to break it.”

Norman Gallon attends yogajuana with the same mission: To break the stigma.

“Right now the stigma is lazy stoners or people who don’t really care about their future,” Gallon said.

Gallon is a mixed-martial arts fighter with goals to climb to the top. 

“I’m an amateur fighter, and I’m going pro next year,” Gallon said. “I’m 4-0 at 135 with ambitions of being a world champion.”

Gallon said that the same stuff associated with laziness has helped him heal injuries and keep fighting.

“I’ll use it before I train too, almost meditatively,” he said.

Gallon said combining cannabis with yoga has been crucial for his routine.

“I honestly do yoga more than I lift traditional weights now,” he said. “They’re both things that help me to relax and not overthink life. It helps me to just think present.”

When Gallon looks around him at yogajuana sessions, he sees a community – different people with different backgrounds seeking healing for different reasons.

“The cannabis community is alive in Lee County,” Mina said. “It might still be small compared to Miami or Tampa, but we are here and it’s growing.”

For Mina, breaking the stigma around marijuana is personal. To this day she uses both cannabis and yoga for healing. 

“In 1998 when I was eight years old my dad was sentenced to prison for trafficking marijuana,” Mina said. “Prior to that, 10 years before, he was a Tampa Bay police officer.”

As she got older, Mina became an advocate. 

“Once I grew up and realized what cannabis was, I began to advocate for it more because I realized my dad went to prison for 3.5 years, from age 8-12 I missed all that time with my dad,” Mina said.

Mina first started teaching yogajuana at Iona Cannabis Clinic. There, you’ll find Dr. Gregor Sonn, a key player in building the local cannabis community and breaking the stigma.

“First and foremost, we’re a doctor’s office,” he said. “If we refer to cannabis as medicine from top to bottom, then we’re gonna break down barriers, that’s just a natural progress.”

Dr. Sonn has seen that progress firsthand. When Florida first legalized medical marijuana in 2016, he had started a new wellness clinic. He made the pivot to prescribing medical marijuana and now, he’s serving patients of all ages and walks of life. 

“It’s pretty amazing the response that we’ve had from patients, physicians, families, mothers, fathers, yes – every demographic,” said Dr.Sonn. “Even the folks that are checking our work so-to-say are also patients.”

Regardless of more widespread use, Dr. Sonn said there’s still work to do.

“Unfortunately, it’s still illegal at a federal level,” he said.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration still lists marijuana as a schedule I substance.  

“Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the DEA.

However, more and more studies are coming out, showing marijuana is effective medicinally. It’s used to treat a wide range of ailments from sleep disorders, pain, and nausea to anxiety and PTSD.

“The things that are found in a cannabis plant are also found in everyday things, vegetables, and fruits, herbs that we use every single day,” said Jodi Hahn, a CBD specialist at Seed and Bean Market in Fort Myers. “We all have an Endocannabinoid system in us, which means that we are ready to receive different cannabinoids. It’s just there waiting for it. There is actual science behind these things.”

When it comes to the next steps for normalizing cannabis use, Dr. Sonn said he hopes Florida will start allowing patients to grow it at home.

“It seems like an awfully strange thing that we have created this program growing a plant that just about anybody can, but it’s illegal to,” he said. “We’re forcing patients to spend money that they don’t have to.”

Right now in Florida, there’s an initiative to legalize personal use of marijuana for all adults 21 or older. It would also allow adults to get permits to grow their own marijuana at home.

Last week, Sensible Florida PAC announced a new petition drive that would get the proposition in front of voters in 2022. 

“Our amendment will allow consenting adults to choose if they want to choose to use marijuana legally and responsibly rather than be labeled as criminals, while also reducing the burden placed on law enforcement resources from an outdated era of prohibition,” according to a press release from Sensible Florida PAC.

Local advocates said the goal is to change the state constitution with a vote instead of the proposal goin

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