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Guest opinion: Utah needs medical cannabis, but Proposition 2 isn't the way

Newly transplanted cannabis cuttings grow in soilless media in pots on Thursday, July 12, 2018, at Sira Naturals medical marijuana cultivation facility, in Milford, Mass.
Newly transplanted cannabis cuttings grow in soilless media in pots, Thursday, July 12, 2018, at Sira Naturals medical marijuana cultivation facility, in Milford, Mass.
Steven Senne, Associated Press

Editor's note: To read a guest opinion in favor of Proposition 2, click here.

Living with multiple sclerosis, I am 100 percent in favor of medical cannabis. Webster's Dictionary defines medical as 1) of, relating to or concerned with physician or practice of medicine and 2) requiring or devoted to medical treatment, medical problems or an important advance in medical science.

The Utah Medical Cannabis Act (Proposition 2) that will be on November's ballot is being promoted as an answer to many medical problems. I have a sister with inflammatory arthritis disease and a friend with Crohn's disease, and I have read the many articles about how THC, medical cannabis, is helping children with seizures. Undoubtedly, the benefits of medical cannabis are countless to those patients with medical conditions.

My concern with the Utah Medical Cannabis Act is that it uses the term "medical" too loosely. One only has to look at the continuing opioid crisis to see the damage caused by loose regulations in the name of doing good. Fentanyl, hydrocodone, Oxycontin, etc., have contributed to a national disaster in the rush to help people in pain. We need medical cannabis. What we don't need is another unintended drug abuse epidemic. Sharon Levy, M.D., is the director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children's Hospital. Levy says, "We are simply not prepared for the fallout of marijuana legalization."

There are unintended consequences, distribution issues and outside influences in this ballot initiative, the Utah Cannabis Act. Medical cannabis will be distributed through dispensaries, not pharmacies. Your doctor can have the Utah Department of Health issue you a card after 2020 that can be taken to the dispensary. After 2021, if there is no dispensary within 100 miles of you, you can grow six marijuana plants on your property. There is no oversight, regulation, testing labs or sales tax to cities under the Utah Medical Cannabis Act Initiative.

The Marijuana Policy Project, an outside lobbying group, has been a major financial backer — it donated $218,000, supplied staff and helped with the initial draft of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act. I attended the Health and Human Services Interim Committee at the Utah State Legislature on Aug. 15. The Utah Legislature passed HB 197 (Cannabis Cultivation Amendment) last session, which was designed to help people with medical problems. Among those testifying were representatives from the Utah Department of Agriculture, the State Health Department and the Department of Public Safety — all sharing concerns about the Utah Medical Cannabis Act and its implementation.

Some of these concerns were about the two separate staffs, one to run HB 197 and one to run the ballot initiative. There's confusion: multiple systems with no money and no time frame, though there is an aggressive and unrealistic initiative timeline; no electronic verification setup, no standards, no guidelines to comply, no rule making. And it requires a board that now has no funding. In other words, it's a mess, which is a huge disappointment to those of us who are in favor of medical cannabis.

Perhaps the most striking example of unintended consequences came when a fellow from the Agriculture Department was testifying. He used a cookie analogy. "Imagine you and your child are making chocolate chip cookies," he said. "Some cookies have more chocolate chips than others. How do you know how much dosage of cannabis is in the food product? How do you prevent overdose?" He also noted that there is no other food that has medicine dosed in it. "When you take a Tylenol tablet, you know exactly how much medicine you are getting."

Follow the money. The Utah Medical Cannabis Act was designed and drafted by groups outside Utah. Yes, we need medical cannabis; however, we need to do it right. We can't claim it's "medical" if the law doesn't treat it like medicine. Medical cannabis needs to be treated like a narcotic: You go see a doctor, get a prescription and have it dispensed by a pharmacist at a pharmacy.

Because the Utah Medical Cannabis Act does not follow this model, I cannot support it. We can and should do better. Let your legislative representative know than you support medical cannabis that is truly "medical" and treated as such.