Peter Tomala, Utah House District 33

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Why did you decide to run for public office?

I decided to run for office because I don’t think politicians advocate for the average person. I took a break from teaching in higher education to run for office, because I felt no one was talking about the issues of student loan debt or better paying jobs. Our students were graduating with insane amounts of student loan debts but were not finding jobs that could even pay for the interest on their loans.
The issue that put me over the edge that got me to run for office was Medicaid Expansion. Close to 2,000 people in our district fall in the Medicaid Gap and 55 people die each year in our city because they don’t have affordable healthcare, but our legislature decided we didn’t have the money to take care of our neighbors. They turned their back on us while they spent millions of dollars on unconstitutional lawsuits and a coal port in a different state.
Expanding Medicaid was the right thing to do for moral and economic reasons but our politicians are more concerned about getting reelected than helping the community. Don’t think that is the case? Then why did they hide behind closed doors and refuse to disclose their votes. Enough is enough.
I decided to run for office because I believe we need more ideas, balance and common sense in our government. 

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

I'm a former teacher and career counselor. I also help operate a small business that specializes in helping companies across the Wasatch Front meet their development, technology and startup needs. Working in Utah’s growing tech industry allows me to innovate with businesses and solve complex problems with limited resources.
But none of that should really matter. Our campaign is focused on ideas, bringing people together, and fighting for the issues that matter to our community. If the only skills politicians had, was to listen and work hard, we’d be in much better shape. Regardless of someone’s political views or background, I’ll fight for any issue or idea that can bring positive change to our area. Period. 

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

I’ve personally seen what substance abuse can do to family and friends. From cigarettes and alcohol to hard drugs, substance abuse can tear families apart. I’ve also witnessed families coming back together when loved ones get through the treatment process. I strongly believe we need to treat substance abuse as a public health issue rather than a criminal activity, because if you’ve witnessed it first hand, you know that a jail cell isn’t solving the problem.

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

I 100% support the creation of a medical cannabis program. A majority of people in our community support the program so it’s very easy for me to vote and advocate for the issue. Even if you personally don’t end up using medical cannabis, it seems narrow to not allow other people to decide their own personal health decisions. Once a regulatory system is set up, the state will be thankful they didn’t have to raise taxes to take in extra money.

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

It’s pretty simple, create a medical cannabis program. Every month 24 people die from a drug overdose in our state. A recent study showed that we can save 6 of those lives a month with a legal medical cannabis program. What are we waiting for?
I’ve never personally overdosed on drugs but I know family and friends that have come close to death from overdosing. A majority of Utahns know someone that has been addicted to drugs or overdosed on drugs so this issue hits home for many of us. It’s a personal issue that creates a lot of emotions and deserves our attention. 

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

Laws that don’t follow science? Never heard of such a thing. Joking aside, of course I would support policy that is rooted in scientific research and explore solutions that treat substance abuse from a public health perspective. This question highlights how far our government needs to come to address this issue. Research and evidence are wise friends we should listen to. 

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

First, yes, I support the principle of harm reduction. Second, we need to do a better job of educating our community about what services that are available to them. Third, viewing drug abuse as a public health crisis helps to change the narrative around the issue so people are more inclined to reach out for support services. Injury prevention, education and treatment are the ways out of drug abuse, not a jail cell. 

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

I would agree with imposing a civil fine for possession of a small amount of cannabis rather than criminal charges. We have a big problem with the school to prison pipeline and locking people up for simple possession of cannabis is not helping the cause. If we are going to get serious about breaking generational poverty and a cycle of government dependence, we need to address our drug laws. A civil fine does not mean we still can’t be tough on crime. With limited police resources, we need to focus our attention on serious crimes, allowing our officers to be more proactive on the streets.  

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?

Yes, I would be interested in sponsoring drug policy reform legislation. I would be interested in the areas of medical cannabis and any programs relating to harm reduction. 

Anything else?

I want to provide a different voice with new ideas to a system that is pretty stale. Still not sure if you would support me? Call my cell, 801-414-1130. I’d love to hear from you.