Lee Anne Walker, Utah House District 46

Why did you decide to run for public office?

I concluded that my lifetime of voting, donating/volunteering for candidates and issues, letter writing, visits to town hall meetings and to the Capitol buildings, all have had almost no effect on the Utah legislature. I could do a better job myself than the majority of Utah politicians, and I want to represent the people, not the big money. I am also open to at least considering ideas from all sides, instead of blindly following a party line. I am not a drug user myself, but I believe in your liberty as long as you do not harm others. Medical marijuana is very promising for many situations.

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

I have been an attorney, artist, and owner of Handi Van Inc. and Cherry Street Gallery. My education is collaborated with BYU degrees in history, with political science and genealogy minors, classwork completed for MA in political science, and a law degree from U of U.  In addition, I have volunteered a lot over my lifetime. Disabled from birth, and between that and running the wheelchair van service, I gained much experience in how medical insurance, Americans with Disabilities Act, and government regulations work (or not) in real life. For example, cancer patients being transported to chemo by wheelchair and stretcher, do better if they use marijuana.

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

A beloved uncle killed himself with alcohol when I was sixteen years old. He was picked up by the police and taken to the hospital where he died, violently, of liver failure. He had bought bad bootleg whisky because he could not legally get anything else, due to Sunday closing law for legal outlets. That grief is a fundamental in my life experience. Why didn't we see that coming?  What could we have done different to have helped? In addition, his boyhood friend died when he choked on his own vomit in a jail holding tank. Now, we have the “War on Drugs,” where people are afraid to go for help with addiction, for fear of a long prison sentence. Crime and/or suicide occur over those being unable to support or break a habit. Using alcohol because it is legal often leads to aggression and impaired driving, instead of illegal marijuana, which tends to produce somebody who wants to sit on a couch near a sunny window and eat corn puffs. All of which has produced a world record prison populations and extremely long sentences in US.  People of color, are so disproportionately run full-tilt through the legal system that has become an effective voter suppression tactic against the minorities. As an attorney, I know just hiring a good lawyer saves many white people from that fate. In many states, felons are banned from voting for life, and everywhere they have employment disadvantages with a criminal record.  While the rest of the people, tax-payers, children, other relatives of felons, neighborhoods with missing parents, and workforce compete with prison labor and also suffer. Utah is spending incredible amounts on prison building, but is worst in the nation in funding schools. Starving the school system while building prisons is called "building a pipeline to prison" when done in the South. Then there is that new prison that is going to cost a fortune for a lifetime, although some legislators and their cronies stand to pocket big bucks for short term building it and redeveloping of the Draper site. We need to stop the madness. Invest in schools, including providing resources for Kindergarten through 3rd grade, where fundamentals for further learning provide reading, writing, basic math, and social skills to deal with school. Future prison bed needs are projected by incoming 4th graders who are not functioning at grade a 3rd grade level. They do not have the basis to build their education on and there will be drop outs. We would turn our future around if we dropped the prison in the swamp, and put the most of the money into schools and drug treatment programs. Decriminalized marijuana, but selling to minors, driving impaired, and other offenses still criminal, and work out an immediate parole for everyone in prison just under marijuana possession charges. Some support for this would be to help reintegrating those back into normal life, and promise of clearing their record if no further offenses occur.   

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

I completely support medical cannabis, if only for one reason, my involvement with Handi Van Inc. This has made me aware that people who need a wheelchair, or even gurney, to be driven to chemo do much better if quietly using marijuana. They keep their food down, and therefore their strength up, which means they are not nauseated and vomiting in a moving vehicle. They are happier and better able to relate to their family and friends, and they feel less pain than if using addicting prescription narcotics. In turn, this means a better quality of life, whether or not they survive the cancer, but being addicted to narcotics is its own nightmare.

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

I know of someone who kept a heroin addiction at bay for years, but then went through some major life crisis, relapsed, and died. Unlike regular users, he did not know anything about the sellers and he bought a bad batch, which lead to quite a few deaths that weekend. New users, or relapses after a significant time, will not know their current tolerances or the reputation of the seller. Sometimes more money is made by mixing other poisonous substance and less heroin, and the "good stuff" created this way, is more dangerous than ever. Narcan, if quickly administered, can be miraculous, and is now available under the Good Samaritan law. So anyone can have it to help in an emergency if they have a possibility of encountering someone in distress. There needs to be public education about this, and widespread dispersal of Narcan in case waiting for the ambulance is too late. Users need to know, to admit what they took, and ask for the medication. It has been the norm for people to abandon a person having an overdose, for fear of being arrested to, rather than knowing help is possible. Public education on the true nature of the drugs, including that some people die from the first exposure and the myths that you can do some experimenting before you are hooked, is important. There needs to be medical research allowed, and other countries experiences should be studied. Love and support your friends so they do not wander into experiences they would not have chosen if they were happy and fulfilled. Realize life is more complicated than you can solve with a questionnaire or more prisons. Finally, an ending story, I had a man I met through my art gallery tell me he got on heroin not because he had problems, but because he had everything he ever wanted and it all came so easy. He was sure he would not lose control to the drug, but he lost everything, wife, family, home, vehicles, career, health, and went to prison in California.  

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

Yes. I was going on about that in earlier answers. The “War on Drugs” is a failure, we can do much better, with less money and human cost.

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

I have been advocating above. I think a little noted set of facts is to compare out comes of first offenders sent to prison, compared to those who got a good attorney and got off, or got a plea bargain to a lesser, not obviously drug, charge. As an attorney, I can tell you I saved some white boys who got a good scare from just being hauled down to the jail until bailed out and having to face a judge, the who cleaned up their act – never to return. I think the same would be possible if other demographics had similar experiences. Including a safety net to function as supportive white families can, with bail, jobs, residence, while the person scrambles to get their life in order. In addition to offering a dismissal of the charges if no further offenses occur.

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

Decriminalization offers many of the same benefits as legalization. The court would still have the power to monitor and require counseling. 

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 absolutely plan to be involved in sponsoring full medical cannabis. I admire Christine Stenquist, activist now running for the legislature (D), and would love to work together. We both appreciated Mark Madsen's (R) efforts in the last legislature. On possibly related fronts, Madsen is not running again, but he is heading up Republicans for Gary Johnson – the Libertarian Party's candidate for President. Libertarians believe in personal liberty, as long as no one else is being harmed. That makes them socially liberal and fiscally conservative. I am running as a Libertarian.
I am also interested if there is clean-up in areas of harm reduction, education and counseling.  As a Libertarian, I am concerned that big pharmaceutical companies not be allowed to monopolize control of legal medical marijuana. Although drug stores are an obvious outlet for marijuana and its derivatives, as they are capable of handling prescription paperwork and controlling sales for minors.  
Finally, that pathetic Medicaid expansion Utah is considering, does not include funding for counseling to prisoners.

Anything else?

I would like to see immediate progress made. I would like a grow your own, or join a co-op option, even if drug stores are also allowed to sell medical marijuana. It is a completely natural substance, and big pharma cost for it would be counterproductive without competition from the free market.