Rachel Nelson, Utah House District 59

Why did you decide to run for public office?

I chose to run for office because the people of Utah deserve a choice. We deserve a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people,” but our legislators are choosing to represent the oil and development companies, big business and campaign supporters, and they're all too often running unopposed. That simply won't do.

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

I am a Licensed Massage Therapist, a parent, and a student of the behavioral sciences.

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

My experience with drug policy and substance abuse is that of a personal nature. Too many that I have known and loved have been negatively impacted by a drug addiction. Addiction is a disease that causes harm in a great number of Utah households. It is an issue of great importance to individuals, families, and the community as a whole. 

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

I absolutely support the creation of a medical cannabis program. Though I have no personal experience or understanding of the drug, studies have shown that medical cannabis provides real benefits to those suffering with chronic pain and illness. 

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

First, support and funding for science-based addiction recovery programs is essential. We must create a real path to rehabilitation and ensure that those suffering from a drug addiction have access to adequate services.
I believe it is also important to provide educational programs on drug abuse, prevention, and addiction for medical professionals and the general community. Along with the harmful social stigmas of drug abuse and addiction, the causes and rehabilitation of a drug addiction are widely misunderstood, and it is problematic to the rehabilitation of an individual suffering from an addiction.
It is also imperative that we reconsider the legal ramifications for those caught abusing drugs or suffering from a drug addiction. Through the prosecution of individuals for drug abuse, our legal system reinforces a destructive cycle, wherein an individual can also not find and maintain employment, housing, and/or meet the needs of their families.
We must consider first the services and counseling which provide accurate information and support rehabilitation and mental health, not the punishment and degradation of those who abuse drugs. As a candidate, I believe it is the duty of each member of the legislature not to consider their own religion or philosophy, but to turn to experts in the field for proven methods and write laws which create real solutions.
As for my personal experience, I am afraid to say that I have known and do know individuals who have struggled with drug abuse, addictions, overdose, and mental health issues, and I have seen and felt the impact.

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

Absolutely. If it does not serve the people, it serves no purpose at all.

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

I am familiar with the principle of harm reduction policies and would support the implementation of such policies. I have long said "people before policy" in my personal life, and I am running for office because I would like to create policies that actually serve the people.

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

The decriminalization of cannabis brings to mind the term "fiscal responsibility", though it is socially responsible as well. Creating job loss and homelessness by jailing Utah residents is reckless at best.

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?

Absolutely. I would like to see the decriminalization of cannabis and the legalization of medical cannabis, smarter legal practices for those who abuse drugs, and especially better programs, education, and support for the rehabilitation of those struggling with addiction.

Anything else?

Drug abuse and addiction are a difficult enough issue without our government officials complicating the situation. Scientists and medical professionals already have expert answers to the problems we are facing – and we are definitely facing problems with drug abuse, addiction, and overdose in Utah. It is also clear that many individuals and families are looking for serious answers to chronic illness and pain. It is time for us to stand behind our claims of being a "family-friendly" society and take care of the problems most seriously affecting Utah families.