Sheriffs’ Misguided Policy on Medical Cannabis

The following op-ed, written by our president Connor Boyack, was published today in the Standard-Examiner.

Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson continues to advocate for a costly, destructive and failed “war on drugs.” He claims, in a written policy, that legalizing cannabis for medicinal use would “create thousands of victims.”

Has he not paid attention to the victims created by the criminalization he supports?

Even more audaciously, the sheriff claims that medical cannabis would “further the destruction of the family unit” because of addiction and “family dysfunction.” (Because prescription drugs don’t contribute to any of that, of course.)

Is the sheriff not paying attention to Utah’s opiate crisis, which claimed the lives of nearly 400 Utahns last year? Perhaps he does not know that according to The Journal of the American Medical Association, based on studies from other states that have legalized medical cannabis, that rate could plummet by 25 percent.

That’s around eight Utahns whose lives could be saved each month.

So while the sheriff is worried about the “destruction of the family unit,” we should instead focus on the destruction of actual lives, ravaged by legal, FDA-approved medications. Meanwhile, medical cannabis has not killed anybody.

This is not Sheriff Thompson’s first foray into this question. Early last year, as the Utah Legislature was debating passage of a comprehensive medical cannabis program, he penned an op-ed in which he excoriated the effort and castigated those involved.

“Wealthy, dope-market money changers are descending on state level politicians all across the country in an effort to spread their despicable lust for money via drug addiction,” he said. Those who favor legalizing cannabis for medicinal use, he declared, are “ambiguous, pretentious, twisted and all about the money.”

Even worse, he claimed that those supporting legalization — including my organization, Libertas Institute, which has been spearheading the effort — were “disgusting and devious” for allegedly exploiting sick Utahns “who are desperate to find hope and relief for real medical needs.”

Never mind the fact that these patients specifically see hope in cannabis after numerous drugs have failed them, and that they effusively praise our efforts to change the law so they might pursue this treatment option without fear of incarceration or losing their children.

What’s truly “disgusting and devious” is thinking that these fragile, suffering people should be torn from their family and thrown into a cage.

Sheriff Thompson’s conspiracy theories and antiquated outlook on how public policy should treat drug use are thankfully in the minority. While a few representatives on the House Health and Human Services Committee ultimately killed Sen. Mark Madsen’s proposed 2016 legislation, Utah voters overwhelmingly support legalization of medical cannabis.

One poll after another in recent years has indicated a majority of likely voters in Utah support such an effort. In light of legislative inaction, and notwithstanding the opposition of those like the sheriff who are apparently OK with locking up sick Utahns trying to become healthy, it’s time for the public to decide.

Consider the plight of your neighbor who has chronic pain, or Crohn’s disease, or PTSD — just a few of the many conditions that cannabis can help with. All around the country, this neighbor sees people just like them — people with their same condition — improving or fully recovering.

Utah patients want that, too. They want their lives back. They want off of their heavy prescription drug regimen, and the side effects that come with it. They want the option of legally and safely trying cannabis to see if they might experience similarly positive results.

They have that right, even though Utah law currently says they don’t. It’s time for that to change. It’s time for a ballot initiative so the people of Utah can show the sheriff and others like him that patients should no longer be treated as criminals.