When Park City's Jessica Reade Gleim began researching alternative treatments for her Trigeminal Neuralgia, a chronic nerve pain condition, she came to believe medicinal marijuana would make a difference not only for her but for others suffering in Utah, as well. So last year, she joined the board of trustees of the Drug Policy Project of Utah (DPPU).
"[They] had just completed a poll that showed 72 percent of Utahns supported medical cannabis," she said. "There was a lot of energy around the issue but not a lot of accurate dialogue going on."
In August of 2015, she was named vice president. Over the past year, Gleim said one of the goals of the DPPU has been to make progress at the legislative level. Just in the last year Gleim said things appear to be moving forward.
"The conversation has evolved to a large degree," she said. "There is more information in the public arena and on Capitol Hill. We've hosted public events, worked with the media, and been engaging with legislators about the topic over the past year and we feel it has helped advance the conversation."
Gleim said the legalization of medicinal marijuana in other states has made the DPPU's job easier in that they no longer have to ask Utah leaders to be trailblazers.
"One of the benefits of having 23 other states and Washington, D.C. with up-and-running medical cannabis programs is that we can take the best practices and lessons learned from their successes and stumbles and incorporate them into Utah's program," she said.
"DPPU has been focused on gathering information from these other states and providing it to legislators and stakeholders in order to create a more productive dialogue about the issue of medical cannabis."
This year there are three different marijuana bills up for discussion: SB73, SB89 and HB58. Gleim said SB73, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, would create a tightly-regulated program that would allow Utahns to purchase cannabis from a dispensary. The Senate's judiciary and law enforcement committee voted to send his bill to the full Senate for discussion this week.
"These dispensaries would operate statewide and provide access to thousands of Utahns with a wide range of illnesses," she said.
Sen. Evan Vickers', R-Cedar City, has proposed SB89, which would be a more modest extension of Utah's current policy. It passed through a Senate health committee and is expected to be debated by the full Senate sometime this week.
"[It's] limited to high CBD [cannabidiol] low THC forms of cannabis," she said. "It would essentially expand upon the State of Utah's existing CBD-only waiver program and provide for more research to be conducted on cannabis."
HB58, brought by Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, would reauthorize Utah's CBD-only program, which is set to sunset later this year. Essentially, HB58 would punt the discussion for another time.
"This program was Utah's first experimentation with medical cannabis and is widely viewed as having been a success," Gleim said.
Gleim said DPPU is supportive of all three proposals because they all move the conversation forward to at least some degree.
"We support the reauthorization of Utah's CBD-only program and we believe both proposals for more robust medical cannabis programs deserve the attention and support of lawmakers," she said.
At this point, and with so many bills up for discussion during this year's legislative session, Gleim said it is too early to tell how the medicinal marijuana proposals will fare.
"We are optimistic and working hard to support efforts to create a medical cannabis program," she said. "We certainly feel that energy and enthusiastic support for the concept of medical cannabis is helping advance the conversation."
Gleim said the DPPU is thankful for the willingness of Utah's legislators to hear them out, to have the conversation even if they stand on the other side of the argument.
"[They have] approached this issue with a very open mind," she said. "Utah is fortunate to not have to deal with the extremism that has characterized other states' discussions about medical cannabis. We have always found that legislators are open to the idea. We share their cautious approach to the issue and believe that Utahns want a program that is tightly regulated and based on national best practices and our Utah values."
Whether medicinal marijuana is legalized now or sometime in the future, Gleim said she is sure it will happen.
"We are optimistic that Utah will eventually implement a medical cannabis program," she said. "It is important to take a long view on this issue and recognize that a lot of study, research, and information goes into the creation of such a large-scale program.
"We're optimistic that Utah is headed in the right direction and that 2016 will be a great year for those hoping to create a medical cannabis program in the State of Utah."
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