On a sticky Sunday in June, Anqunette Jamison Sarfoh barely breaks a sweat as she moves among some five dozen chatty women who are crowded into a small, cacophonous pot-smoke-filled vestibule. Sarfoh, statuesque in a black dress with white polka dots, is usually uncomfortable in warm, tight spaces as heat exacerbates symptoms of her multiple sclerosis, but little could bother her today. All around her at a house in downtown Detroit shared by a pro-cannabis law firm and a yoga studio, a gaggle of invitees discuss, breathe, and nosh on all things cannabis-related as they wait for the main event room to open.
“Watch how this works,” the 47-year-old former Fox 2 Detroit morning show anchor tells those close enough to hear. She places a long plastic bag over a nozzle atop a UFO-looking device known as a vaporizer and pushes a button. After the bag expands with colorless, aerated marijuana pumped from bowels of the vaporizer, Sarfoh seals it with an orange stopper. She then hands it to a slightly startled, well-coiffed middle-aged blonde who frees her hand by shoving a gold lamé purse under her arm and takes a hit. “See how smooth that is?”
Anqunette Jamison Sarfoh joined the weed business after a painful MS diagnosis forced her into early retirement in 2016.
As guests feast on a salad with a pot-infused dressing and sip tea brewed with cannabidiol (CBD) oil prepared by High Times magazine’s 2017 Michigan Top Chef Gigi Diaz, Sarfoh sits at a head table with her featured guest, registered nurse Cathleen Graham, who has made a career of advocating and educating people on the health benefits of marijuana. Over the next 90 minutes, in an event Sarfoh dubbed “High Tea,” the two women offer a seminar on the health benefits of using marijuana in an array of forms.
“I wanted this to be women only because we’re gonna talk about some sensitive issues that cannabis can treat,” Sarfoh coos in a reassuring but assertive lilt honed from her decades on morning television.
For perhaps the first time in years, Sarfoh is fully in her element. She made her name in Detroit as a trusted presence to wake up to before her MS forced an early retirement in 2016. But through that illness, she discovered the benefits of medicinal marijuana and her second act — as a pot evangelist and then as a pot entrepreneur as co-owner of Botaniq, a dispensary in Corktown.
The free High Tea event, then, was a clever opportunity for Sarfoh to merge these two personae. “My neuropsychologist is always reminding me that even though I’m not informing people like I used to, I still have a passion for informing people,” she tells me. “I like for people to know things and be smarter. I can’t just sit at home and keep it all to myself.”
Before she was diagnosed, Sarfoh took little interest in the politics or business of marijuana. Nor, for that matter, did she give much serious thought to MS until 2012 when Fox aired an interview with Courtney Galiano, a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance who had come out as having the neurological disease that strips people of their control over their bodies.
Many symptoms Galiano described were familiar to Sarfoh, who had been vexed for years by memory loss and a habit of losing her train of thought. Then, in recent months, Sarfoh’s legs had fallen asleep while she walked her dog. One time, she was bringing groceries into her Farmington Hills home when she faceplanted. “My legs just stop working,” she says. “I distinctly remember the oranges rolling across the floor because they ended up in my husband’s home office. It was terrifying.”
During an ad break from the Galiano interview, Sarfoh took an online MS assessment quiz, scored 8 out of 10 and then googled Detroit neurologists. Several doctor’s visits, some brain scans, and two spinal taps later, Sarfoh was diagnosed in November 2013 and put on a buffet of medication. “My doctor said, ‘Your job will put you in a wheelchair,’ ” she recalls. “He says, ‘It’s stressful. You have to get up every morning at 3 o’clock. You’re not sleeping well. You should consider not doing this.’ ”
Sarfoh is committed to educating women on the healing properties of marijuana. Here, a High Tea guest experiments with cannabis paraphernalia.
Sarfoh officially retired from Fox 2 in a Facebook video in October 2016. She’d wanted to be a reporter since she was a second grader in Gary, Indiana, had gotten a journalism degree at Butler University, and worked her way up to the plum Detroit gig through years of toil in West Lafayette and South Bend, Las Vegas, and Boston. “When I got to Detroit, I knew this was going to be the place I would end my career,” she says wistfully. “It just ended sooner than I thought.”
In June 2016, Sarfoh and her father drove to Colorado so he could try cannabis edibles. Her father lives in Indiana, where it is not legal for any purpose, and he suffers respiratory issues that hinder him from smoking. The road trip’s destination was Sweet Mary Jane, owned by a cannabis cookbook author who had inspired Sarfoh to dream about starting her own edibles bakery.
By then, Sarfoh had been using weed to allay symptoms of MS for a few years. Her husband, Richard Sarfoh, urged her to try it as she struggled with nine prescription medications that she said only made her sicker. “I smoked a joint and the nausea went away, the headaches went away, it gave me energy,” she says. “I was able to wean myself off of all the other drugs.”
This awakening sharpened her awareness of problems with marijuana criminalization — disproportionate prosecution of minorities, seizure of personal assets regardless of guilt, the limited number of ailments for which medical pot was legal in Michigan — and jolted her into action. Sarfoh shed the neutrality required of her as a journalist and lent her voice to the activist group MI Legalize as it geared up in late 2016 to put a referendum on the 2018 ballot to lift the ban on recreational use by adults.
At the same time, the Sarfohs contacted a real estate agent about opening a cannabis bakery. Instead, the agent routed them to an investment group struggling to get approval from the North Corktown Neighborhood Association to open Botanic, a proposed medicinal marijuana dispensary. In 2017, the couple partnered with those investors, and the notable former TV anchor successfully persuaded locals that her pot shop would have class. The name was soon after changed to Botaniq — a nod to the “Q” that had long been Sarfoh’s on-air nickname — and it opened on Election Day 2018 as Michiganians also went to the polls to overwhelmingly legalize recreational marijuana.
Anqunette Jamison Sarfoh inhales from a glass bong, a filtration device used for smoking.
This summer, the Sarfohs accepted a buyout offer estimated to be effective in September. The sale has freed the couple up to spread their wings. As of mid-summer, they had put in an application to open a dispensary in Madison Heights and were negotiating a partnership with a less successful Detroit pot dispensary. The High Tea event, which she hopes will become a semi-annual event, and the founding of CuriosiTea, a monthly educational gathering for cannabis-curious women that launches on Oct. 17 at a Detroit “bud and breakfast” called Copper House. Her aim is to destigmatize cannabis for groups — women, the elderly, religious people — who she feels can benefit from its use.
The conversation she leads at High Tea is a prime example of what she sees as her role in the Detroit community — in her words, “a cannabis and wellness advocate.” Under her gentle questioning, the nurse explains the difference between THC, the ingredient that produces a high, and CBD, an oil extract from cannabis that offers some of the health benefits without the mind-altering impact of the drug. Members of this audience aren’t only newbies; along with Sarfoh, others tell how they used to overcome joint pain, to control diabetes, and to allay anxiety.
“When I first started medicating my son with cannabis oil, it was not the norm, so watching Anqunette go through what she did helped me be proud of medicating Jaden’s autism in a natural way,” says Amie Carter of Burton. “With that, I got him off of 90% of his pharmaceuticals. He’s doing very well.”
The room erupts in applause, and all eyes turn back to Sarfoh, ever the congenial hostess. “That’s what this is about,” she tells me later. “I want to help people be comfortable with this. If I can do that, I’ll consider this part of my life to be a success.”
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WJBK) – FOX 2 News Morning anchor Anqunette Jamison was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2013, but says she was likely suffering symptoms for 10 years before that. Her mental and physical health have declined, making it hard to keep up with the everyday demands of being a TV news anchor.
“I thought that I could do a few more years at this job, but in February I suffered a relapse,” she admits. She went on medical leave shortly after that before ultimately deciding to retire.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. It’s not known right now what causes it.
Q says her MS hasn’t necessarily affected her mobility, but it’s definitely affected her mind. She’s especially noticed short-term memory loss.
“It’s difficult to do this job when you’re afraid you may forget what you’re saying as you’re saying it. Also, my mind plays tricks on me,” she says. “I call people names and it’s not their name. I called Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dr. Carson. I know the difference. So, it’s strange because a lot of times you won’t even know that you’re making those types of mistakes.”
She says her symptoms became so strong that she couldn’t even be at work for 8 hours a day.
“At 10:30 in the morning, I would go home with a headache and a stomachache and I would get in bed, and that was my day. Every single day,” she says.
Eventually, Q put her health first and went on medical leave in April 2016.
She says now that she’s not working at FOX 2, she’s able to rest more and focus on keeping her diet healthy. She is fatigued very often, and she compares the fatigue to how tired she felt after completing a marathon. She’s ran two.
“Your body is depleted. I wake up tired,” she says. “I used to be able to run marathons and now I have to take a rest break walking up my steps.”
She says her decision to ultimately retire was tough to make. She admits her family and loved ones would always call her, asking her, ‘Have you quit your job yet?’, knowing that she’d feel better and less stressed once she did. She’s wanted to be a morning news anchor since she was in second grade so it was tough giving up her dream.
She still has plans to stay active in the community, though.
Q wants to help lower costs of prescription medications for MS patients.
“I basically went from nothing to becoming a $100,000-a-year patient. My MS drugs were $70,000,” she says. She was taking a number of medications and injections to quell her symptoms, but then would have to take additional drugs to help with the side-effects. At one point, she was up to 80 mg of adderall a day, which she says is four times the usual dose.
Still, she was feeling symptoms. Her nausea and vomiting became so bad that she went to the hospital multiple times.
Eventually, she was led to medical marijuana and her nausea went away almost instantaneously, and she says that nothing has since helped better.
Medical marijuana is already legal in Michigan, but Q is joining the fight to legalize marijuana across the board. She has taken a leadership role in the marijuana legalization campaign with MI Legalize.
She says, after talking with people in the MS community, that many patients use medical marijuana.
“If we want to go on vacation, though, we can’t fly with marijuana. We can’t fly with an edible cookie,” she says.
She also believes the war on drugs disproportionately affects communities of color, and that it has caused an incarceration epidemic that hasn’t served our country well. She also believes people with other ailments, such as cancer, can benefit from marijuana as well.
If you’d like more information on MI Legalize’s marijuana legalization campaign, visit www.milegalize.com/2018.
You can also follow Q in retirement and reach out to her on her Facebook page.
Fox News Anchor Turned Cannabis Advocate Shares MS Journey
Anqunette “Q” Sarfoh, former Fox Detroit 2 news anchor turned advocate for marijuana, told a full house, including multiple sclerosis patients and advocates, about her journey from multiple sclerosis victim to advocate for the legalization of marijuana. Sarfoh recently became a spokesperson for MI Legalize, the grassroots group that is leading the drive to get the issue of legalized adult use of marijuana on the ballot for 2018.
The event was the first meeting of the year for Women Grow-Southeast Michigan chapter, held for the first time ever at the spacious meeting center, Go Where Meetings Matter, in Ypsilanti.
The Journey Begins
Sarfoh’s journey with MS began when she fell.. “My feet would go numb on walks and my hands would fall asleep. My memory was getting worse. They thought I had adult ADD so they had me on Adderall. My brain was firing so quickly my thoughts misfired. I would forget things as I said them. MS isn’t just physical. It’s mental also.”
And then she fell. “One day in the summer of 2013, I was walking up three steps from my living room to my kitchen carrying a bag of groceries. My legs just stopped working, and I fell face first on the floor.”
A few months later, she was anchoring the 11 a.m. newscast. “We had a story about a contestant from So You Think You Can Dance who dropped out because she had just been diagnosed with MS. When she talked about her symptoms, they sounded a lot like mine. During a commercial break, I took a WedMD quiz for MS and scored 8 out of 10.”
But she was doubtful that she had MS because the disease is rare among African Americans.
To find the truth, she saw a neurologist and had an MRI done. “The doctors were concerned about the images they found in the pictures for someone who was under 70. A spinal tap performed a week later confirmed what they thought, that I had MS.”
After she was diagnosed with MS, she was given a neuropsychological examination to measure her cognitive function “because my memory issues were my primary MS symptom. That exam showed I could also be depressed and possibly suicidal. They were being overly cautious because MS can cause depression and the suicide rate of people with MS is seven times the national average. However, I have not been diagnosed with depression and I am not suicidal.”
She was put on Copaxone to modify the disease progression but not treat any MS symptoms; and Baclofen, Adderall, and Zofran to treat either the side effects of Copaxone or the MS symptoms.
Fortunately, her insurance at Fox TV covered the cost of Copaxone because it retails for $83,000 a year. “Because I now have insurance through the Affordable Care Act, the out-of-pocket cost for Copaxone alone will be more than $40,000 a year.”
The First Year
“The first year I was a good patient. I took my drugs. I was never sicker in my life. I was constantly nauseated, had headaches and stomach pain.”
And three trips to the ER in that first year “to stop unrelenting vomiting.”
Then one day not long after her third trip, her husband talked her into smoking a joint. While an occasional cannabis smoker in college, she at the time was avoiding it because her job subjected her to drug testing. ‘I was stunned at how quickly my pain and nausea went away. I was also surprised that it gave me energy.”
Her husband became her caregiver. “I started smoking every day. I would come home from work after six hours feeling sick. Two puffs and I’d be washing dishes, walking the dog.”
But MS is an autoimmune disease. It progresses slowly and is affected by stress. “My memory was getting worse. I couldn’t remember if I took my pain meds. Dealing with the insurance company was stressful. Constantly rereading so many depressing news stories was depressing.”
In February 2016, her doctors warned her that she was having a possible relapse and prescribed a three-day course of intravenous steroids. A month later, with her condition not improved, they recommended that she stop working permanently.
Advocate for MI Legalize
On November 1, 2016, Sarfoh became not the anchor giving the news story but the subject of the story when she announced that she was retiring from her position at Fox and becoming an advocate for marijuana as a board member for MI Legalize, the grassroots Michigan group that is leading the drive to get the issue of legalized adult use of marijuana on the ballot for 2018. “I do not plan to go back to Fox. I’m grateful that cannabis gave me two extra years in the work force.”
She was inspired to join MI Legalize after their petition to be on the 2016 ballot was rejected due to a technicality:
“What happened to the MI Legalize petition drive should bother anyone who believes in democracy. That we have a citizen’s initiative system in place and the rules were changed during an active petition drive is troubling. I believe it to be a blatant abuse of power and a flagrant disregard of the people’s will and right to decide our own laws. We were robbed.”
In her new role she hopes to change the misperception of cannabis users as noncontributing members of society and to help people to understand that they have other options than what they are being told by pharmaceutical companies and the government:
“There are many reasons why I believe cannabis should be legal, from its safety and potential medical use, to the failed and racist War on Drugs, to the tax revenue our roads and schools could certainly use. But in Michigan in particular, where law enforcement profits off civil forfeiture and ballot initiatives are first ignored and then fought against in court, legalization is needed to end an unjust system.”
She points to the hypocrisy of defining marijuana as a schedule 1 drug, which means it has no medical use, while heroin and cocaine are schedule 2 drugs. “That means that pot is more dangerous!” she points out.
“It is a travesty that the establishment has denied us the opportunity to grow marijuana in our closets and backyards,” she continues. “We can’t remain silent. When we do, that’s when they get away with so much. Tell the truth.”
Today, Sarfoh has relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, which means “when my disease is active and my cells are attacking my central nervous system, I am having a ‘relapse.’ When that activity stops, my disease is remitting. Every relapse can lead to further, irreparable damage.”
Her regimen is to follow an MS-specific diet called the Wahls Protocol, exercise, and reduce stress. She hasn’t taken the drugs in a year.
* * *
Learn more about the MI Legalize campaign to liberate cannabis for adult use and become a supporter in the upcoming grassroots ballot initiative.
It’s our turn now.
Ken Wachsberger, editor of Bloom Blog, is an author and founder of Azenphony Press Writing and Editing.
TV anchor with MS leaving Fox 2 to join medical marijuana fight
Elissa Robinson Detroit Free Press Published 12:04 PM EDT Nov 1, 2016
After 22 years on television, Fox 2 Detroit morning anchor Anqunette Jamison Sarfoh has announced plans to retire.
Anqunette Jamison has decided to retire. MILegalize.com
In a Facebook video post Tuesday morning, Sarfoh, best known as “Q” to Fox 2 watchers, said that she would leave the business and join a leadership role with MILegalize, in an effort to help legalize marijuana in Michigan.
Most recently, Sarfoh was on a leave of absence because of medical issues related to her multiple sclerosis.
“I loved my job but multiple sclerosis was making it harder and harder to do it,” she said in the video. “I spent my first year of having MS sicker than I have ever been in my entire life. And then I became a medical marijuana patient.”
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Now, she says, she no longer takes the many medicines she once relied on, including Adderall, anti-nausea drugs, muscle relaxants and sleeping pills.
Michigan recently passed legislation to better regulate and make available medical marijuana to patients who need it, including, for the first time, edible forms of marijuana. But full legalization of cannabis in Michigan is nowhere in sight. There were three efforts to put a cannabis legalization question on the Nov. 8 ballot, but none of the backers were able to meet all signature and other legal requirements.
Sarfoh will be officially introduced as a member of the “MI Legalize 2018” movement during a fund-raiser Wednesday at Weber’s Inn Ann Arbor.
You can watch Jamison’s full Facebook message here.
Staff writer Paul Egan contributed to this report.
Published 12:04 PM EDT Nov 1, 2016