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Stephen Stearman, CEO at Elevate Holistics- Interview Series

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“We’re of the mindset that cannabis isn’t a one-stop shop for all ailments but it is a good starting point for people with many types of conditions.”

Stephen Stearman

The now “endemic” COVID -19 has occasioned drastic changes in several industries, cannabis included. One of the notable changes that has taken place in the healthcare industry is the emergence and increased reliance on tele-health services. A report by ASPE that was published in 2020 revealed a 63-fold increase in telehealth Medicare visits between 2019 and 2020. In a bid to contain the pandemic, cannabis dispensaries have been forced to limit the number of walk-in visitors. And over time, consumers have gotten accustomed to the “new normal.”

In comes tele-healthcare.

Elevate Holistics offers telehealth services to the cannabis industry. The company helps medical marijuana patients to get their MMJ cards with ease. The aim is to increase the accessibility of medical marijuana services to rural communities in Oklahoma and help the patients navigate the uncertainties of the evolving industry.

We spoke to Stephen Stearman, co-founder and CEO of Elevate Holistics to get a better understanding of what tele-health means to the industry and how the Elevate journey has been

Welcome Stephen.

As an intro, how did your career path lead you to the cannabis industry?

I moved to Austin to go to graduate school for entrepreneurship and in that program I met my now business partner, Trey Marler, who was starting a healthcare business in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Fast forward 4-years and several jobs with small technology start-ups, Trey called me about starting Elevate. I leaped at the opportunity.

Are you the only company offering tele-health for the cannabis industry? In a few words, how receptive has the market been to this service?

No, Elevate isn’t the only company offering telehealth services for the cannabis industry, but we’re one of the few who offer way more than just medical card recommendations. We don’t want our patients to just get an MMJ card and then be left in the dark about the intricacies surrounding cannabis. So, we also offer services like CBD, Cannabis Nurse Consultations, holistic health and wellness plans, and so much more.

The market has been quite receptive to this, especially during the pandemic when leaving home was less encouraged. Telehealth services, as a whole, make cannabis more accessible than ever. If it wasn’t for the pandemic most states wouldn’t even allow telemedicine for medical cannabis cards. This really sprang a new industry with several large players.

At Elevate Holistics, you make getting your medical card easier than any doctor’s appointment can be. Which kind of patients do you aim to serve?

We aim to serve any patient who is looking to better their life. Initially, we crafted Elevate after seeing the need for these services in rural areas, but our aim has long surpassed just these communities. Now, we want to serve just about any person who could benefit from the plant. Our average age is 48 which tells us that generation X and baby boomers in these communities are the ones leading the MMJ charge.

You appear to be intentional about helping the vulnerable (rural communities and military veterans) to get legal access to medical marijuana. Tell us more about this?

Even though the cannabis industry is more popular than ever, certain communities are still being left out. Those in places that don’t have easy access to cannabis, those who have long been affected by the war on drugs, and military veterans who struggle to get MMJ access often do not experience the same cannabis journey as others. These more vulnerable populations fall to the wayside, but why? We know they’re just as deserving of MMJ as anyone else, so it’s always been Elevate’s goal to ensure this more equal access.

Recently, we’ve also hired our first bilingual patient care coordinator to help Spanish-speaking customers have better access to cannabis and cannabis education, as well.

Missouri has dished out MMJ cards to “just anyone.” What’s your take on this?

If they need a card, they need a card. The state tells us what conditions qualify or not. I don’t think it’s really our place to judge whether or not certain individuals deserve cannabis over others. While some doctors may be more frivolous than others about giving away medical cards, this isn’t directly harming the industry or the community it is happening in like you had with the opioid crisis. We’re of the mindset that cannabis isn’t a one-stop shop for all ailments but it is a good starting point for people with many types of conditions.

Certain minority communities were victimized by the failed war on drugs: years of incarceration and decimation of segments of the population. Therefore, the end of cannabis prohibition should not just be about economics but restorative justice. In your view, which states have prioritized social justice and which extra measures can be taken to right the wrongs of the past in the cannabis industry?

The states throughout the country that have begun expunging low-level cannabis crimes — as well as embracing BIPOC dispensary and cannabis business owners — are the states the rest of the country should follow. Unfortunately, as a whole, diversity in the cannabis industry is a rarity that has to be addressed. Something like 80% of the industry is run by white Americans. This has a lot to do with structural racism within the industry, and the fact that many of these affected communities do not feel there is a space for them — let alone a safe space.

The best things the cannabis industry can do is to embrace diversity, provide more opportunities for BIPOC community members, and demonstrate wider representation.

If it passes, Missouri’s recreational bill will include automatic expungement. That is the most forward thinking bill in America.

Technology for the cannabis industry, how necessary is this and what does the near future look like?

Technology for the cannabis industry is necessary for the industry to continue to thrive if it stays at the pace it is going. Likely, in the near future, we’ll see even more access to cannabis telehealth platforms, delivery services, online ordering, and all things digital. There is a large gap in software for the cannabis industry due to the blacklisting by major companies like payment processors. The industry is having to build up their own enterprises to meet these gaps. Is it a good thing? In some ways, sure. You’re seeing millions of dollars poured into these technologies with jobs associated. It’s bad because the industry is lacking in effectiveness when it doesn’t have to. That will change in due time though.

Thanks Stearman for taking the time to share these insights with us. We appreciate your role in the industry and wish you the very best moving forward. Those wishing to learn more about Elevate Holistics should keep checking their website.

Lydia K. (Bsc. RN) is a cannabis writer, which, considering where you’re reading this, makes perfect sense. Currently, she is a regular writer for Mace Media. In the past, she has written for MyBud, RX Leaf & Dine Magazine (Canada), CBDShopy (UK) and Cannavalate & Pharmadiol (Australia). She is best known for writing epic news articles and medical pieces. Occasionally, she deviates from news and science and creates humorous articles. And boy doesn't she love that! She equally enjoys ice cream, as should all right-thinking people.

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