This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Regarding Senate Bill 73 (Medical Cannabis Act), the Utah Medical Association recently tweeted that none of their practicing docs "are complaining about (its) stance" against the bill. However, even in the medical community, opinions are as varied as the beautiful landscape of our state. A number of groups have come out against SB73 based on what "could" happen, or about "unintended consequences that may accompany" the bill. The arguments against medical marijuana are largely based on hypotheticals and what-ifs.
Fortunately, Utah isn't the first state to tackle this issue. Nearly half the states in our nation have medical cannabis laws and we can leverage their experience. So what could we expect from passing SB73?
• We know we will have a reduction in opioid deaths.
Approximately 2.5 million opioid prescriptions we're written in Utah last year. Not pills, but bottles. Approximately 80,000 Utahns take opioids on a regular basis. And over 600 people die each year from drug overdoses. According to a journal of the American Medical Association, states with medical cannabis laws have seen their opioid overdose death rate go down 25 percent to 30 percent. In Utah, this means that SB73 has the potential to save nearly 200 lives per year, a number comparable to our annual traffic mortality rate of 250.
• We know there will not be any overdoses on medical cannabis
The amount of marijuana needed to overdose is so high, that there has never been a documented overdose in the entire world. Contrast this with even over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, caffeine and aspirin, all of which have significant numbers of overdoses. And, importantly, contrast this with the nearly 40,000 U.S. drug overdose deaths, with between 20,000 and 25,000 of these deaths from prescription drugs. Zero people have ever died from marijuana overdoses.
• We know that medical cannabis has not been associated with a higher rate of illicit use in teenagers.
• We know that medical cannabis has not been associated with higher traffic fatality rates.
• We know that SB73 will help reduce the $30 million-plus that Utah spends each year on hospitalizations from opioid overdoses, neonatal abstinence syndrome and drug-dependent mothers.
• We know that SB73 will finally offer thousands of Utahns and their families now being ravaged by the scourge of addiction to opioids a non-addictive and non-fatal alternative.
The benefits that we know our state will receive through SB73 are being overshadowed by hypothetical "mays" and "coulds." While we should all rightfully be concerned with what may happen in our state, we should make our decision on SB73 based on what has happened in other states. Thank you.
Michael Holmstrom, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon and president of the Utah State Orthopedic Society. This op-ed represents his view and is not an official position of the society.