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For the past six months, Dallas Sainsbury has treated her Crohn's disease with a cocktail of opiates, steroids, muscle relaxers and other medications that made her hazy and sick to her stomach, alongside numerous other side effects.
Then, while attending a concert with friends in Colorado, she tried marijuana and it eased her nausea, anxiety and the urgent need to use the bathroom. It also helped her get off the opioids that left her "high every day," led to her quitting school and made it impossible for her to work.
On Thursday, she urged senators to support a bill that would make Utah the 24th state to legalize medicinal marijuana.
"I know this can help so many people and this can prevent [opiate] addiction," she told a Senate committee. "I desperately hope that myself and others have access to this because I don't want to see myself or anyone else have to deal with opiate-addiction withdrawals," she told senators.
During four hours of testimony before two Senate committees Thursday, witnesses laid out a clear choice between two bills one pitched as a modest first step, legalizing cannabis extracts without THC that have been shown to help in some cases; the other a bolder "whole-plant" option that would allow products with THC that several witnesses said are essential to their treatment.
In the end, both bills moved forward and will be debated by the full Senate perhaps as early as next week although a stark divide remains over the two bills, along with unease among some senators to embrace a more robust marijuana program.
"I wish there was a way we could heal all these hurts and heal all these ills," said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City. "At the end of the day, the decision I have to make here is: Is my desire to try an experiment with something we don't have accurate data for, for the potential to help people who are hurting, does that outweigh the potential danger to public safety?"
Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said his SB89 the more incremental approach, which would legalize cannabidiol extracts from marijuana plants that have had THC removed is designed to avoid increased use by youth, to prevent a movement toward recreational marijuana use, to keep criminal and black-market elements out of the business, and to provide relief to those who might benefit medically.
"Our goal through this whole process was to create a medical environment and a regulatory environment that would allow us to treat qualified patients in a compassionate manner," said Vickers, a pharmacist.
Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, the co-sponsor of Vickers' bill, said he also wants to make sure the state gathers good data on the effectiveness of the cannabidiol products, or CBD oils.
"Let's find out what we don't know," he said. "Let's make sure research is paramount in this bill and make sure we have a way that that information is presented to the medical community and the state at large in a credible way."
But patients and caregivers of patients who said they have benefited from marijuana products with THC said the Vickers-Daw bill doesn't go far enough to give them the relief they have been willing to break the law to get.
The committee heard from Kennith Thomason, who was diagnosed with cancer in his appendix and colon six years ago and suffered burns to his internal organs during chemotherapy. Doctors prescribed opioids, but they caused side effects that caused his colon to back up, made him lose weight and made life "horrible." The only solution was more opioids.
When he tried marijuana, he said, his appetite returned, he regained his weight and he got off the opioids.
"[People] need to know they're not criminals for seeking an alternative," he said.
Doug Rice is a firefighter and paramedic who said his daughter began having seizures when she was 18. They tried several different medications, but she still was having up to 25 seizures a day.
"We lose a little bit of the child with each one of those seizures, and eventually we were going to see her die," Rice said.
They tried the CBD oil without THC and she improved, suffering two or three seizures a day, and then they tried a product with THC.
"We were blown away," said an emotional Rice. "My daughter had the first seizure-free day in three years."
Dr. Michael Holmstrom, president of the Utah State Orthopedic Society, said about 100,000 Utahns use opioids to treat pain, and legalized marijuana as proposed by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, could offer a safer alternative. It is about as addictive as caffeine, he said, and there has not been a documented fatal overdose from the drug.
"In my opinion, [Madsen's bill] has the potential to make a very major impact on the opioid epidemic in Utah," Holmstrom said. Both bills would make the respective products available to those suffering from epilepsy, HIV or AIDS, pain caused by cancer, diabetes or strokes, or other diseases. Madsen's bill would make the THC-bearing products available to those suffering from chronic pain as well.
"This is about limited government, individual liberty, allowing people to own their own lives, own their own decisions," Madsen said.
Vickers said the goal of SB89 was not to kill the Madsen bill.
"We are simply providing a different path to achieve the same goal," he said. "We recognize our path is slower and more methodical, but we also strongly believe we need to be careful how we do this."
It was a sentiment echoed by Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter, speaking on behalf of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, who said, "As with any marijuana product shown to our youth, we're concerned about the potential effects of that."
And William Hamilton, president of the Utah Medical Association, which represents doctors in the state, said the Vickers bill is a good first step, allowing more research to proceed.
"We like the go-slow approach of Senate Bill 89," Hamilton said. "Perhaps," he said, "it's time to put the horse back in front of the cart."
But Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said doctors treat diseases like chronic pain and seizures with drugs and, just because they're prescribed by a doctor, doesn't mean "it must be dandy."
"Powerful drugs are powerful things," he said. "Just because they have some made-up, nonsensical name attached to them, it doesn't mean they're not without risk … especially when you're dealing with pain."
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously endorsed Vickers' bill, sending it forward for debate. The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted 4-1 to advance Madsen's bill. Both could come up for debate in the full Senate as early as next week.