October Interim Committee Update

Yesterday the Drug Policy Project of Utah attended the Health and Human Services Interim Committee where two competing medical cannabis bill were proposed. Senator Mark Madsen and Senator Evan Vickers have both released draft legislation for establishing a medical cannabis program in the State of Utah. Here is our report on Senator Vickers’ proposal.

Senator Vickers’ Proposal:

Earlier today we announced our opposition to this measure because this proposal does not meet the key values that are necessary to create an inclusive and successful medical cannabis program. Below are the most significant issues we have with Senator Vickers’ proposal.

  • It represents merely an expansion of Utah’s existing CBD-only program and as a result only two to five thousand Utahns would be allowed access to this program – violating our key value of whole plant access to cannabis.
  • By allowing only 5 dispensaries to purchase medical cannabis, the program leaves rural Utahns at incredibly high risk for being left out of the program – violating our key value of reasonable geographic access.
  • In addition the program calls for a “mail order” program for cannabis. As convenient as this sounds it likely violates federal law and it raises significant security issues for patients – violating our safe pathway to access value.

Of great concern to us is the language that Senator Vickers uses when discussing medical cannabis. In fact, during his various presentations on the topic, Senator Vickers has continued to use untrue statements and information. For example:

1) A central argument posited by opponents of medical cannabis is that loosening restrictions on medical cannabis would send a message to teens that cannabis is “safe” and the result will be increased use of cannabis among teens. Evidence has repeatedly shown this notion to be inaccurate and false. Since 1996, 34 states have passed some sort of medical cannabis legislation but according to two new recently published studies, teen use of cannabis has fallen over that same period. One study, published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, suggests one reason behind the downward trend in use: strong disapproval of cannabis use among younger teens is up sharply from where it was even 10 years ago. They found that teens aren't using cannabis largely by choice, not because it's less available to them. 

2) The gateway theory has repeatedly been used as an argument against medical cannabis. This theory argues that because heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine users often used marijuana before graduating to harder drugs, it must be a “gateway” to harder drug use. This claim has been debated and tested by scientists in various ways across many settings. To date, studies have NOT shown that the “gateway” explanation is supported at all by the scientific evidence. If anything, cannabis has been shown to work as a gateway out of opiate-based drug use, not the reverse. This is sobering considering that 21 Utahns die each month from a prescription pain medication overdoses and many more are hospitalized. 

3) The documented use of cannabis as a safe and effective therapeutic medicine dates all the way back to 2700 BC. Between 1840 and 1900, European and American journals of medicine published more than 100 articles on the therapeutic use of cannabis and, in fact, cannabis was part of the American pharmacopoeia until 1942. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study published in the Journal of Pain on Sept. 16, 2015, looked at the effectiveness of using vaporized, inhaled cannabis in 39 participants. These participants were experiencing neuropathic pain despite having tried traditional treatments (opiate-based drugs). The researchers found that these chronic pain patients who, for the duration of the study, used medical cannabis every day for a year did not experience an increase in serious adverse events compared to patients who did not use the treatment. This is far from the first study to illustrate the medical benefits of cannabis. In fact, cannabis has been identified as a powerful and safe medical alternative in many peer-reviewed studies.

We’re committed to correcting the record and providing factual information to the public and legislators about medical cannabis but we can’t do it without your support. Please consider making a contribution to our efforts to get the truth about medical cannabis out so that Utahns get an honest debate based on the facts, not scare tactics.