This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Day after day, Utahns suffering from a wide range of serious medical conditions join us on Capitol Hill to advocate in favor of Senate Bill 73, which would legalize cannabis for those with cancer, chronic pain, Crohn's, epilepsy, MS, ALS and other conditions. They spend hours waiting for legislators to speak with them and, too often, they are ignored.
To be frank, most senators seem sick of them they don't want to look these people in the eye. Doing so would make it far more difficult to cast a vote that would keep them in the shadows of society, threatened with arrest, fines, incarceration and more.
It would humanize the issue, forcing them to set aside their superficial talking points, unfounded fears or comparatively unimportant concerns.
Laughter is often used to break tension, so it's little surprise to see legislators make light of the marijuana issue. As was the case during last year's legislative session, elected officials this year have mocked the effort and by extension, the patients it aims to help by talking about THC being used only for "fun," wondering who is bringing brownies to the Capitol for a snack, "research" trips to Colorado and smoking doobies.
While these comments are surely made in jest, and without malicious intent, they are still a smack in the face to thousands of Utahns who see their lives hanging in the balance. This is their medicine.
Would we tolerate elected officials mocking patients of other illnesses and the medication they take? Imagine the outcry if a legislator said that a Kindergarten class reminded him of an episode of "Breaking Bad," given how many kids with ADHD use Ritalin and Adderall (close cousins of methamphetamine).
What if one of them quipped, while touring a chemotherapy clinic, that it looked like an Auschwitz reunion?
How would you react if a legislator told your ailing parent, using opiates to relieve substantial pain from a neck injury, to "suck it up"?
Most people would be offended by these scenarios, but somehow it's OK if another medicine that is improving and saving the lives of many sick and suffering Utahns is stigmatized, criticized and scorned.
Our efforts to legalize medical cannabis span several years, and in that time Utah voters have had a profound shift in opinion on the issue. The primary reason, we suspect, is because patients have become more comfortable sharing their use of (or need for) cannabis with friends and family. It has humanized the issue for hundreds of thousands of Utahns.
Everybody knows somebody who has suffered from cancer, or who suffers tremendous pain each day, or whose life is ravaged by PTSD. These and the other conditions for which cannabis can help are a part of our lives. And if cannabis can reduce suffering or provide healing and relief to a friend or family member, we're increasingly likely to support its legal and safe access.
Legislators like to claim that they're watching out for the public good, or voting against legalization out of a concern for underage use, driving under the influence or preventing a slippery slope towards recreational legalization. These same legislators, however, would surely move heaven and earth to legalize this plant if it were their child or grandchild whose condition could not be abated with pharmaceuticals but might stand a chance with cannabis.
Patients lobbying for Senate Bill 73 are exhausted. On top of dealing with their physical ailments, their visits to the Capitol have brought them derision by some, avoidance by others and rejection by many. No wonder they're eager to launch a ballot initiative and turn their attention to the public, which overwhelmingly supports them.
In the name of both civil discourse and compassion, let's please stop poking fun at our friends and neighbors, merely because their medicine happens to be the target of decades of reefer madness propaganda and ignorance. Lives hang in the balance let's act accordingly.
Connor Boyack is the president of Libertas Institute.