This is Why Medical Cannabis Legalization is Important

The following op-ed was published in the Park Record this week.

Patient stories were front and center during the campaign to legalize medical cannabis, but it seems that amid the political machinations and modifications that have followed, these stories have receded from public view.

In some sense, that’s understandable — after all, as a result of the Prop 2 campaign, Utahns became extremely well versed in these stories. They were shared widely across social media, repeated by traditional media, and talked about in countless workplace and dinner table conversations. The public “gets it,” and that’s why support for medical cannabis has been so strong.

But as regulators move forward implementing Utah’s new law in anticipation of having product available for purchase next Spring, it’s imperative that such stories remain at the forefront of our collective consciousness so that we remember that medical freedom for Utahns is what this has always been about — not political power plays, voter initiatives versus the Legislature, or self-satisfaction regarding regulations.

That’s why Libertas Institute and the Utah Patients Coalition together shared the story of Marie Nielsen last week, in a video released on Facebook. This story matters because it shows why we can’t wait. 

We can’t wait because, for example, Marie’s firstborn child Clayton died from seizures several years ago. Who knows, she wondered on camera, what things might have been like for him had medical cannabis been an option at the time? How many people have needlessly suffered because of decades of criminalization and stigmatizing of a helpful medical option?

Marie and her husband have had several more children, and in each case were nervous that the genetic condition their son suffered from would befall another child. Four subsequent children avoided it, but eventually the condition came back in little Gracelyn.

Now three years old, this young girl has debilitating seizures that prevent her body from functioning like other children her age. She cries in pain, with lengthy episodes that incapacitate her. 

As is the case for many with seizures, CBD wasn’t enough; a THC-rich medical cannabis treatment was needed—but it was illegal. Gracelyn’s doctors have supported the use of medical cannabis, but prior to Prop 2’s passage, Marie was justifiably terrified about the potential consequences of breaking the law. It’s a difficult decision as to whether to use it anyway, and risk having the government try to take your child away, or instead let the child unnecessarily suffer.

Eventually the opportunity to provide this option was available, and the treatment worked immediately; the seizures subsidized, as did the pain. Little Gracelyn cracked a smile and slept—two outcomes that any stressed parent of a medically frail child longs for.

Medical cannabis has proven to be a healing balm to Marie’s family, providing an opportunity to help Gracelyn cope with her condition and improve her quality of life. It’s a blessing, one that she’s thankful is finally legal.

I sat in the room while Marie shared her powerful story, at once heartbreaking and hopeful. Hers is a powerful example of why this political effort has been so important and resonated so strongly with the compassionate public.

Not everyone is so fortunate, of course; cannabis is not a cure-all. But so many patients are at their wits end with a plethora of pharmaceuticals not only not working, but causing damaging side effects. In many cases, cannabis has been a last resort after failing other options. In many cases, it should instead be an option of first resort.

We’ve made significant strides on this issue in Utah — something many thought not possible when the effort first began. That’s a testament to so many patients like Marie being willing to publicly share their suffering and simply ask for freedom to try.

The Utah Medical Cannabis Act is in effect right now. Even though product won’t be available to purchase in Utah for several more months, legal protections currently exist for patients with qualifying conditions who have a doctor’s support and cannabis in one of the many approved forms.

So many patients now have relief, and soon will have the option to obtain their medicine more locally. And while the political machinations will no doubt continue, stories such as this remind us of the ongoing need to ensure safe, legal, and affordable access for those who need this option. Truth be told, the future is looking far brighter for medical cannabis users than it ever has before.