Elizabeth Weight, Utah House District 31

Elizabeth_Weight_.jpg

Why did you decide to run for public office?

I have taught in Utah for 31 years, and the concerns, questions, and ideas students bring to school each day have made me an activist for them, their families, and the broader communities which support them. From studying and participating in the legislative process, I realize the need for better representation of their views. My education colleagues encouraged me, and I am excited to stand for working families and the realities they face each day.  

What is your background? Profession, skills, etc.? 

My family has been in Utah for six generations. I attended traditional public schools and hold degrees from two Utah universities. During my career in teaching junior and senior high students, I have earned additional teaching endorsements, participated as a member in a number of local and state committees, and become a leader in the Utah Council of Teachers of English, the American Federation of Teachers Utah, and the Central Utah Federation of Labor.  In addition to teaching, I have been a small business and business property owner, and I currently serve on the board of a water company. For a short time after college, I performed as a professional trombonist and managed a brass quintet, which performed throughout Utah.  

What is your general experience with drug policy and substance abuse? 

Since early in my teaching career, I have been aware of the various drugs available to students and the numerous substance abuse and treatment challenges the families face. In contrast, I continue to be dismayed by presumptions around economic or social status and drug involvement. Regular presentations at my school sites have been a source of enforcement policy information, but the most significant experiences have been with young people, their families, and with a member of my own family – a close nephew – who became involved with alcohol and heroin. From those direct contacts, I recognize the extremely complex nature of substance abuse as well as the various reactions and responses to the problem and people involved.  

Do you support the creation of a medical cannabis program? Can you expand upon your general feelings about medical cannabis?

I do support the creation of a medical cannabis program. The more I discuss this with people in my district, the more I learn of scenarios in which medical cannabis can and must be considered. I am familiar with the research and views of the TRUCE (Together for the Responsible Use and Cannabis Education) organization; I observed the legislative testimony and process for Senator Madsen’s bill during the 2016 session; I am familiar with related views and implications in the League of Women Voters position calling for the basic level of quality health care; and I am learning from a growing number of people the realities faced with prescriptions of opioids. There are too many arguments for the inclusion of medical cannabis as an option to deny the need for policies that allow access.  

What steps would you take to reduce the number of overdose deaths? Do you have any personal experiences with overdose?

Steps I will propose and/or support are toward policies to provide more and broader education and access to medications, such as medical cannabis, that are proving to be valuable options to the types of drugs involved in overdose deaths. Too often I hear the mantra of “gateway drug” that is now inadequate to sustain policies against medical cannabis, and I believe elected leaders are in a perfect position to promote accurate information about the realities of opioid use, abuse, and overdose. 
My personal experience is as witness to the near overdose of my nephew and the levels of fear and tragedy in my own family due to his heroin addiction. This has evolved in a rarely positive direction, but I have learned that nearly half of young people who inject heroin report abusing prescription opioids before starting heroin.  

Do you agree with this analysis? Please feel free to elaborate.

I have agreed with the stated premise for quite a while. I remember the initiation of the “War on Drugs” and have witnessed the consistent failure of often another type of offense to effect a change in abuse behaviors. My training, experience, and interest in a fact-based problem-solving approach in public policy, all point to a path to improve health rather than to regard any health issue as an offense to be punished.  

Are you familiar with the principle of harm reduction? Do you have any experience with harm reduction policies? Please feel free to elaborate.

Considering experiences within many of our own families and those of people we know, as well as extensive scientific research, it is only sensible to view drug use as a public health issue and to use education, prevention strategies, and treatment for problematic use as bases for public policies.  As the problems around drug abuse have grown, we can view drug use as part of the complexity of our society and human condition, both common areas of discussion in school studies.   

What are your general thoughts on the decriminalization of cannabis? Please elaborate.

Considering increased evidence and experience to support medical cannabis particularly, I agree with the view toward more realistic regulations and consequences for cannabis possession. As a parent and teacher, I desire healthy lifestyles, success for my son and students, and I recognize the devastation that current criminal definitions for cannabis possession easily bring. In line with the principle of harm reduction, decriminalization of cannabis is a sensible step to support individual choice, as well as allowing law enforcement resources to focus where serious harm is done. 

Are you interested in sponsoring drug policy reform legislation if you were elected? What would be some specific areas of focus or interest for you?

I am interested in sponsoring drug policy reform legislation.  I’m particularly interested in arguing for access to medical cannabis and discussing laws that will educate and satisfy the concerns of those who still seem fearful. I view this as an issue of rights, education, and humanity, as well as health policy. 
Also, as I have become aware of the awful consequences of cannabis possession when I know how common possession of a small amount is, I am interested in decriminalization legislation that will provide more choice, less harm, and more realistic law enforcement focus.  

Anything else?

West Valley City, where I am a candidate for the Utah House, continues to hold a reputation for drug abuse and criminal drug activities. Yet, in my discussions about drug issues, attitudes, and policy, residents recognize a need for more reasonable laws and policies that focus on keeping their kids safe, protecting civil rights, and upholding them as hard-working people. The people, families, and neighborhoods in West Valley deserve information and well-balanced policy views that consider their real needs for health care options, the complex abuse situations many families face, and life-altering consequences for simple cannabis possession when harsh crimes seem unattended. West Valley people believe problem-solving should lead the discussion and direction for drug use and abuse policies.