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Survivor TV celebrity comes to Morgantown to celebrate opening of Trulieve medical cannabis flagship dispensary

MORGANTOWN – Reality TV celebrity Ethan Zohn came to town Thursday to help celebrate the pending opening of Trulieve’s second local – and state flagship – medical cannabis dispensary, at Granville Square.

Zohn won Survivor Africa in 2001 and participated two more times: Survivor All Stars in 2004 and Survivor Winners at War in 2020.

Heather Peairs stands behind the counter.

More importantly, he said, he’s a two-time cancer survivor who wants to help erase the stigma and promote the benefits of medical cannabis. He’s taken on the role of brand ambassador for Truleive’s in-house brand of wellness products called Momenta.

Truleive’s Granville Square shop – in what was the second Iron Horse Tavern location – is its largest in West Virginia, said Heather Peairs, Trulieve’s West Virginia area manager. This is its fifth site. The first opened in Sabraton, followed by Weston and then, last month, Parkersburg and South Charleston. At 5,100 square feet, it’s about twice the size of its Sabraton dispensary.

Asked about the company’s growth, she talked about the growth of the medical cannabis industry overall in the state. “This business is so young. We’re excited about the program in general.”

The state has about 10,000 patients now, she said, and Morgantown has three companies operating dispensaries (Cannabist and Zen Leaf being the other two). “Our patients have great feedback for all of our locations.”

Trulieve, she said, understands that medical cannabis can be costly, so first-time customers get a 50% discount and a follow-up contact to see how they’re doing. Trulieve uses customer feedback to let its cultivators know what the needs are so they can adjust their product offerings.

Zohn said he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2009. Along with chemo and radiation and a stem cell transplant, “I was taking a lot of prescribed synthetic pills.”

He wanted some other options to the pills but there was no access to cannabis in New York City and he was getting it off the streets, which was a “horrible experience.”

That sparked his mission. “I want to be able to educate others, give people access.” A former pro soccer player, he’d had no real contact with cannabis before that, he said, and he found it mitigated some of the negative side effects of his treatments.

“My whole life, with the stress and anxiety and fear that the cancer would return, became a major problem.” CBD and cannabis products with THC helped him deal with that.

He relapsed in 2011 and again underwent chemo and another stem cell transplant.

He became familiar with Trulieve, he said, and liked that the company emphasizes the medical side, focusing on research and quality.

He was giving a presentation during the 2021 Boston Cannabis Week, saw some Trulieve folks and pitched an idea: running the Boston Marathon to celebrate 10 years in remission and promote medical cannabis. “We just started talking and it worked out.”

Thursday, in Morgantown, he said, “I want to change the stigma around cannabis. That’s why I’m here today.” He wants to educate people who think cannabis is bad, illicit, a gateway drug. “The more we share our story, the more people know the benefits of cannabis.” And that also leads to policy change.

Zohn cautions that medical cannabis isn’t a miracle. “It didn’t cancel everything out. It didn’t cure my cancer. I just want to get some control over my mind, my body, my spirit, and to take a proactive approach to my own care.” That also involved exercise, eating well and cannabis to help limit the pills.

Zohn’s blue T-shirt bears two logos. At the center is Trulieve’s Momenta logo for its injectibles, tinctures, capsules and topicals.

At the upper left, above the heart, is the logo for Aktiv Against Cancer, a nonprofit that promotes exercise oncology. Research, he said, has shown exercise before, during and after cancer treatment improves outcomes. Zohn and a couple others marathon runners raised about $100,000 for Aktiv through the marathon.

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