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From D.A.R.E. Graduate to Budtender: How a Life-Changing Medical Diagnosis Altered my Views on Cannabis

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

Despite what you may hear from others, there is absolutely nothing wrong with adjusting your views on a subject upon the introduction of new information. In fact, this exact sort of belief system shift occurred in my mid-20s and not only altered my perspectives on a specific subject, but simultaneously changed my life for the better…

Founded in Los Angeles, California in 1983, D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is a program whose primary mission is to educate children on the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. In the 80s and 90s—the height of its popularity—D.A.R.E. was found in 75% of American school districts and featured police officers who attended elementary schools to educate children on how to best respond to peer pressure. I was one of the lucky students to complete the D.A.R.E. program and took my status as a graduate very seriously. 

As a young girl raised in a conservative household, I was extremely resistant to anything deemed “bad” by my parents and was definitely what my classmates would call a “goody two-shoes”; the D.A.R.E. program was right up my alley. I even won the essay writing contest and wore my little medal with pride. As cheesy as it sounds, graduating the D.A.R.E. program was one of the highlights of my elementary school career and I carried the lessons I learned with me throughout middle and high school as well. Even as my peers began to try various drugs, I stuck to my beliefs and avoided anything that they tried to share. The only downside to all of this was that I refused to see any potential benefits that were tied to the substances being offered to me, particularly cannabis. This was especially evident during the 2008 election.

My grandmother has always taken her political rights and freedoms very seriously and brought me with her to work the polls during the 2008 election which, coincidentally, was also my first year voting. I remember medical marijuana had been introduced onto the ballot in Pima County, Arizona, and my grandmother was voting in favor of it due to its reported health benefits. I, on the other hand, voted against it while stubbornly refusing to see any side to her argument, insisting I had way too many friends who had “ruined their lives on the stuff” and that anyone who suggests cannabis had any medicinal aspects were just trying to justify their own addictions. The measure on the ballot lost that year, much to my grandmother’s disappointment, and life went on. When you least expect it though, life will throw you a curveball that completely flips your world upside down and causes you to question everything you thought you knew.

In 2012, I was officially diagnosed with chronic migraines. These horrifically painful headaches lasted upwards of 24-48+ hours each, occurred multiple times a week, and frequently rendered me unfunctional, resulting in my inability to maintain a regular job or normal life. While I had been suffering from these pounding headaches for a few years at that point, it took an especially excruciating migraine—and a possible seizure that was never fully confirmed through testing—to cause me to pursue any professional insight into what I was experiencing. Upon my diagnosis, I began to explore different treatments and preventatives: mainly prescription pharmaceuticals like Amitriptyline or Fioricet or over-the-counter medications like Excedrin Migraine. Sadly, nothing seemed to help and some prescriptions even made symptoms worse.

At this point, I had a friend recommend cannabis as a migraine treatment, which I immediately rejected. I had broken down and tried cannabis a couple times when I was 18 and absolutely hated the lack of control and disorientation I experienced. I didn’t even drink alcohol, so the thought of doing something even “harder” in the name of pain relief seemed wrong and I fought it with every fiber of my being.

Then came the day where the severe head throbbing and nausea became too much to bear. I agreed to take a small hit off of a friend’s flower pipe and was absolutely shocked when the intensity of my negative symptoms were instantly cut in half. The nausea that always accompanied my migraines made my appetite nonexistent, but the cannabis triggered the “munchies”, resulting in me scarfing down one of my first real meals in over 24 hours. Once the pain, nausea, and remaining high subsided, I realized everything I had been raised to believe wasn’t nearly as accurate as I had thought and I needed to immediately reevaluate and educate myself on this mysterious plant. What better way to do so than to throw myself smack dab in the middle of the cannabis industry?

As the years passed, I continued to consume cannabis products for my migraines while simultaneously learning about the plant through various books and internet articles. After a certain point though, I found myself wanting more. In 2017, cannabis still was not recreationally legal in Arizona and–while the medical marijuana measure had successfully passed in the following 2010 election–the industry still was very young and limited when it came to job options. As fate would have it, that same year my long-distance boyfriend asked me to move in with him in Colorado. I excitedly agreed and immediately obtained my Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) Employee badge within a few months of my arrival.

For the two years that followed, I worked multiple jobs within the cannabis industry—including as a cook and packager for an edibles company and a trimmer and harvester at different grow houses—as a way to expand my knowledge on the subject as much as possible.

Out of all the jobs I held in the industry, my time spent working as a budtender was not only my favorite, but the most fulfilling. There was one dispensary I worked at that was frequented by tourists; witnessing them walk into their first recreational dispensary was like watching the children arrive at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Their eyes would widen in awe at the sight of all the various edibles and jars of cannabis we had on the shelves and their giggles would fill the shop while reading the different strain names on the jars. It was especially heartwarming any time a customer would rush up to my counter and excitedly mention how they, “never thought they’d see something like this during their lifetime.” I even encountered some first-timers who wanted to try cannabis but were struggling to overcome their fear of it. Those customers were some of my favorites, as it would give me the opportunity to share how I overcame my own personal fears surrounding cannabis. Once they realized they weren’t alone and were in the same boat as I had been in, they  agreed to explore some of the options we had to offer. It was even more satisfying when they would return to the dispensary the following day raving about how much they had enjoyed their experience and wanted to purchase more.

Helping change peoples’ lives in the same way that cannabis had changed mine was everything I hoped it would be and, while I no longer work in that industry anymore, I still look back fondly on my time as a budtender in the Colorado cannabis industry and am grateful I was able to swallow my pride and open my mind to new information.

Kristee Mikulski is a writer and member of the social media team at the Her Campus CU Boulder chapter. In her articles, she will frequently write about her own personal experiences, but also covers topics such as mental health, entertainment, celebrity profiles, and local life. Other than her involvement with Her Campus, Kristee works as a student ambassador for McGraw-Hill Education (MHE), a campus ambassador for Bubble Skincare, and as a freelance photographer and social media manager. She also has over fifteen years of professional work experience in various fields ranging from veterinary medicine to the cannabis industry. She is currently a junior at CU Boulder, majoring in Strategic Communications with a focus in Advertising Strategy and minoring in Media Production. When she’s not writing for Her Campus or working on homework, Kristee enjoys binge-watching her favorite TV shows, testing out new baking recipes, and spending quality time with her husband (Andy) and two dogs (Ollie and Marley). She also has a passion for various forms of creative self-expression including dance, poetry, music, and art. On campus, you’re most likely to spot her studying in Norlin Library or one of the many college coffee shops.