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After using cannabis for 1 ½ years to keep myself alive, I was recently reported, apprehended, and charged with a felony. Now a medical refugee in Colorado, I'd like to explain why I need cannabis — and why I'll be working to change Utah's laws to allow people like me to have safe, legal access.

Like many people, I have a disorder that is hidden — unseen and ignored too easily. I have an unclassified form of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rarely diagnosed disorder that causes a mutation in my collagen. It is hereditary; we recently learned that my two young daughters have it as well.

I did not choose this life of excruciating pain. I did not choose to have the collagen in my body betray me, and within a year of the initial diagnosis have all the bones in my body dislocate. I did not choose the frailty of my internal organs and my whole nervous system, the constant dislocations that shred my tendons and wreak havoc on my muscles.

For too long, I was in a haze of prescribed pills — a drugged up mother whose life was passing as if I was in a glass house. These pills resulted in round after round of ambulance trips and emergency room visits with no relief.

I prayed. My husband watched his wife's body fall apart. I saw the life I wanted gone in an instant with a condition that I had never heard of. I cried.

The nerve pain and the muscle spasms threw me over the edge. I contemplated suicide. Aside from the horrendous pain of bones constantly dislocating, the tendons, muscles and nerves around all my joints were strained, and most eventually gave out.

I do not hesitate to state that medical cannabis saved my life. It saves my life every day — not because it can ease the horrendous pain, but because it relaxes the muscles that are cramping and calms the never-ending misfiring of nerves. Opiate medication has nearly killed me; my frail body could not withstand the side effects. Cannabis brings relief without the side effects. To me, it is a miracle — albeit an illegal one.

I am — and want to be — a mother who can nurture and raise her children. Prescription drugs made me dazed and bedridden. Using them, I was an incapable mother and fully dependent upon my husband. Using cannabis, I can function and be a part of my daughter's lives.

I am a patient — not a criminal. I have great respect for the law; my father is a retired FBI agent. Marijuana is easily accessible for those who want to break the law and use it; law-abiding citizens are denied its legitimate medical benefit. Like thousands of Utahns hiding in the shadows, I want — I need — legal access to tested cannabis from regulated sources. We cannot be ignored any longer.

Far too many people have died, or lived their lives in constant pain because they were not given the freedom to choose a natural, God-given plant to save or improve their lives, or the lives of their loved ones. Government should help — not hurt — its citizens. Medical cannabis must be legal.

Critics of medical legalization are guided by fear. Myself and thousands like me are guided by hope. Sen. Mark Madsen's legislation helps patients. It would allow my family, and many other medical refugees like us, to return home. It would give us access to the whole cannabis plant that we need.

Competing legislation meant to derail Sen. Madsen's bill claims to be "cautious" by only legalizing cannabidoil — one of many components in cannabis. I could drink the stuff by the gallon and it would do absolutely nothing for me. Like countless others, I need all of the many cannabinoids in the plant whose properties interact with and complement one another.

This competing bill, sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw and Sen. Evan Vickers — a pharmacist whose business is selling drugs that cannabis competes against — won't help cancer patients, those with chronic pain, MS, ALS, veterans with PTSD, and many more. It will continue to criminalize us. That is unacceptable.

As a mother, I teach my children the difference between right and wrong. They see their mother doing the right thing — keeping herself alive to be present in their lives — while doing the wrong thing in the government's eyes. Now I need cannabis to help them as their condition worsens. Please help me fix the law and return home to my family, my caretakers, and my support system.

Our lives, quite literally, depend on it.

Enedina Stanger is living in Colorado.