Theresa “Tree” Themelis, 30, climbs aboard the “canna crawl” bus after a stop at Your Farmacy dispensary in Lutherville-Timonium, Md. She uses medical marijuana to treat symptoms that may be linked to fibromyalgia. (Hallie Miller/Baltimore Sun)

For the first time in five years, Joppa, Md., resident Brandon Bevins feels good.

There’s still some pain, but after being diagnosed with bladder cancer at 31, he feels like he’s turning a promising corner. And he owes it all to the medicinal cannabis community, he said.

“When you get sick, man, it really beats you down,” the former nightclub promoter said. “We take care of each other.”

On a recent Tuesday, Bevins boarded a bus leaving from Towson to embark on a “canna crawl” with about 20 other Marylanders who have found long-awaited relief with medicinal marijuana.

The bus tour was like a pub crawl but meant for the state’s cannabis patients to tour and shop at different dispensaries.

Some of the passengers said they had years of experience experimenting with the drug as medication outside of the law. Others described themselves as marijuana “virgins” who once stigmatized the controlled substance but have come to view it through an enlightened lens since it became legal at the state level for certified patients to purchase in December 2017.

“I didn’t know about cannabis as medication,” said Bethany “Betty” Jane, who organized the event and holds a medical marijuana certification for chronic pain. A former journalist, she now runs the “Mary Jane Chronicles” website, which houses a blog as well as a calendar of events she coordinates for patients to connect and find resources.

“Here you can say, ‘I’m hurting,’ and there’s so much support,” the 53-year-old Ellicott City resident said, adding that she’s planning to host more social events through her business in 2019. “We really need events for people to get community support.”

Under Maryland law, patients must be certified by a registered medical provider to be able to buy medical marijuana grown by licensed operators and sold at licensed dispensaries.

During the day-long canna crawl, certified patients traveled to dispensaries across Baltimore County, including Chesacanna and KIP in Cockeysville, Your Farmacy in Lutherville-Timonium (where patients had the opportunity to medicate) and Blair Wellness Center in Towson. Along the route, they shopped for products including pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes, balms and oils, and enjoyed day-of discounts, specials and, in some cases, free “swag bags” filled with goodies and informational packets.

The crawlers also met with staffers at each dispensary to discuss symptoms and treatment options and bonded with other patients, some of whom have become friends online through marijuana-centered Facebook support groups or at other events held throughout the state.

Theresa “Tree” Themelis, 30, and Cyndi Stallings, 59, connected over the summer and realized they both struggled with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes widespread chronic pain, fatigue, and sleep and mood problems. Since then, they’ve kept in touch, trading tips for pain relief, recommending products to each other and sharing stories from their mutual struggle.

“If you can find someone to help you, it’s a much nicer journey,” said Stallings, of Pasadena.

“I felt so alone in this,” added Themelis, of Perry Hall. “This is something I always felt like I had to hide.”

Green Leaf Medical, a Frederick-based cultivator of medical cannabis, sponsored the recent event and will sponsor another canna crawl for Montgomery County dispensaries Thursday, said Eric Berman, the grower’s business development official. He said his company supports the idea of the crawl so that patients can make connections and learn more about what’s available to them.

As of November, over 70,000 patients in Maryland had registered with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. Dispensary sales topped $95 million by the end of last year, blowing by projections from one of the cannabis industry’s leading market research firms.

Bevins, who boarded the canna crawl bus to meet new people, said the event represents the community’s willingness to “look where others won’t” for solace and solutions to complex problems.

“We’re pioneers,” he said. “There’s just such good energy here.”

— Baltimore Sun