ST. GEORGE — Over 100 people gathered at the Dixie Center St. George, 1835 S. Convention Center Dr. in St. George Thursday evening to participate in a forum designed to educate the public on proposed policy to legalize medical cannabis in Utah.
Hosted by the Libertas Institute whose mission is to advance the cause of freedom in Utah, the forum featured a panel of speakers all of whom had a slightly different, yet similarly personal reason for their participation in the evening’s proceedings.
Featured panelists included Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, who first introduced legislation in 2015 titled Medical Cannabis Amendments, Senate Bill 259, that proposed to legalize medicinal marijuana – the bill’s fourth substitute failed by one vote on the Senate’s March 9 vote, 14-15 (see ed. note); Christine Stenquist, director of the Drug Policy Project of Utah and an illegal medical cannabis patient; Dr. Mike Wilson and his wife Jenny Wilson, a St. George couple who recently lost their daughter to glioblastoma; and David Doddridge, a former narcotics officer.
Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, acted as the evening’s host and directed questions to the panelists.
Thursday’s forum was one of several being held throughout Utah, Boyack said, though the majority of the forums have taken and will take place in northern Utah.
Though most of the forums specialize in a specific portion of the issue – previous forums have discussed law enforcement issues and patient testimonials and future meetings will discuss medical research and marijuana for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder – the St. George meeting covered a broad range of topics from why it is important to legalize medical cannabis in Utah to patient stories and the government’s involvement in the lives of the citizens of Utah.
Madsen plans to reintroduce legislation to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 2016 and is currently working on drafting the new bill.
It’s about the people
Legalizing medical cannabis is a cause that is very near and dear to Stenquist’s heart. At the age of 24 she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that was benign but fairly large, she said. During surgery to remove the tumor Stenquist said she began hemorrhaging.
It took surgeons 9-10 hours just to stop the bleeding and Stenquist slipped into a coma that lasted several days. When she came out of the coma, she said, she had partial paralysis that required the use of a walker to get around, speech problems and tons of pain.
“At 24, my life was on a different path,” Stenquist said.
Stenquist had tried over 30 different prescribed medications to help control the pain and the depression, she said, before trying cannabis as a means of medication.
When she finally did try it the results were staggering, she said. After two weeks of medicating with cannabis she was walking again, within months she was driving again and today she is the director of an organization, holds a second job and is completely pharmaceutical free, she said.
Though Stenquist is an illegal medical cannabis patient, she doesn’t do it to flout the law, she said, but does not want to stop this path she is on.
“We are having a war on a plant that is actually mitigating symptoms and saving lives,” Stenquist said. “We need to raise our voices and demand the right to this plant.”
Mike and Jenny Wilson said they hoped to arrive at the panel under different circumstances than having just lost their daughter.
The Wilsons waited a very long time into their daughter’s illness before trying medical cannabis, they said; and because they wanted to pursue it through legal channels, Jenny Wilson and her daughter left the state to go to Nevada where medical cannabis is legal.
Because the legalization is relatively new, Jenny Wilson said, there is still no legislation in place in Nevada to control the dispensing of the drug and it was difficult for them to know and understand what they were doing, adding that it was basically like buying it off the street.
Stenquist has encountered similar problems and related that she once purchased cannabis and found dog hair all over it.
As part of the language of the bill that Madsen will be reintroducing in 2016, there will be provisions to control the dispensing, strain and quality of the cannabis, he said – a fact that Mike Wilson appreciates about Madsen’s proposed bill, he said, because patients can be sure of what they are getting.
If medical cannabis had been legal in Utah, the Wilsons said, they would not have waited so long to try it for their daughter and they would not have had to leave the state or use a questionable product.
Stenquist and the Wilsons’ stories are just two in a whole host of stories throughout Utah of people who are suffering and who could possibly find reprieve with medical cannabis.
In 2014 legislation known as “Charlee’s Law” was passed that legalized cannabis oil for the treatment of intractable epilepsy, a law which Madsen applauded but also felt was not enough. (See ed. note.)
It is interesting to note that Madsen himself has been on the receiving end of medical cannabis, in Colorado where it is legal, for treatment of chronic back pain, he said, but added that what lit a fire under him was seeing people with conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease who were suffering because they were being blocked from receiving medical cannabis by government policy.
“I realized it wasn’t just about me and my bad back,” Madsen said.
What is the government’s role?
One of the prevailing themes of the evening was the dichotomy that a bill like legalizing cannabis presents. How to you balance personal freedoms with the proper amount of regulation both to create safe policy and a policy that will be palatable to the legislature in a dominantly conservative state?
Doddridge said, “To me Sen. Madsen’s bill is too restrictive, but you have to make it swallowable.”
While legalizing medicinal marijuana is ultimately a human issue it also speaks to the role of government in the lives of the citizens, which is one of the reasons Madsen is sponsoring the new bill, he said.
“I always thought that government was supposed to protect our right to find happiness,” Madsen said. “I trust you to make those choices and to take on the consequences of those choices.”
He trusts the people to make decisions regarding their health and happiness more than he would trust anyone in government, Madsen said, including himself.
A line of thinking, he said, that is quite different from many of his colleagues.
“I don’t know that there are any of my colleagues that would necessarily take this up with the passion that I have,” Madsen said.
For me, it’s clearly flawed policy that the government right now is preventing people from accessing the treatments that they and their doctors want to try to improve their life, manage their pain, treat their conditions; but where we work on government justice and the proper role of government, for us the law on this issue is clearly an impediment that is causing a lot of suffering and so we want to improve that law.
Jenny Wilson succinctly echoed those sentiments.
“If we don’t have the freedom to try it,” Jenny Wilson said, “then we don’t have freedom.”
Madsen will not be running for reelection, he said, so 2016 will be his last legislative session – making it even more important that he passes the new bill, he said.
“It’s very important to me, obviously, but I think that this is maybe the best shot this issue has for some time, which I’m sure the opposition understands as well,” Madsen said. “I think the prohibitionists are gunning for me and would rather see me leave without having accomplished this fight for freedom.”
Support for the legalization of medical cannabis seems to be gaining popular favor in Utah and both Boyack and Madsen were pleased with Thursday night’s turnout where attendees were urged to continue to educate themselves, stay involved and, perhaps most importantly, express their support to their legislators.
Each of the public forums held on the issue have been and will be recorded in full and posted on the Libertas Institute’s YouTube channel.
Ed. notes on legislation:
Medical Cannabis Amendments – 2015 4SB 259: Representing Southern Utah: Sens. David Hinkins and Steve Urquhart voted in favor of the fourth version of SB 259 on March 9; Sens. Evan Vickers and Ralph Okerlund voted against it. The bill failed and never went before the House of Representatives.
Plant Extract Amendments – 2014 9HB 105 – Charlee’s Law first passed the House of Representatives on March 3, 2014, with a favorable vote 62-11, with two representatives absent or not voting. It then passed the Senate with amendments on March 11, 2014, 26-0, with 3 abstentions. Finally, the bill returned to the House for concurrence with the senate amendments, where it found final passage 58-9, with 8 not voting. The bill was signed into law by the governor on March 20, 2014, with an effective date of July 1, 2014.
From Southern Utah, Sens. Ralph Okerlund, David Hinkins, Steve Urquhart and Evan Vickers all voted for Charlee’s law. Reps. Michael Noel, Don Ipson, Brad Last, Jon Stanard and V. Lowry Snow voted for the bill in either or both the first and final House passage, while Rep. John Westwood voted against it.
- Libertas Institute | Website
- Medical Cannabis in Utah: Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice and Banking Regulations | Watch the forum on YouTube
- Medical Cannabis in Utah: Healing, Curing, and Alleviating Medical Conditions with Cannabis | Watch the forum on YouTube
- Drug Policy Project of Utah | Website
- Libertas Institute hosts public forum on medical cannabis
- Senate kills medical cannabis bill
- On the EDge: Medicinal cannabis moves a step closer to legalization in Utah … yes, Utah
- New cannabis law provides hope for epilepsy sufferers
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