At present, legally allowing sick Utahns to use medical cannabis for treatment and relief is seemingly inevitable. One poll after another confirms over three-quarters of Utah voters support the effort to make this a reality. But that hasn’t stopped a few opponents from sounding off with their fears and false claims.
Add Gov. Gary Herbert to that list. In a recent statement, the state’s chief executive said he would “actively oppose” the proposed medical cannabis initiative, which at this point is mere days away from being officially certified for November’s ballot by Herbert’s lieutenant governor.
Why oppose what 77 percent of Utahns support? In his statement, Herbert points to a recent law he signed, House Bill 197, saying that it “allows for the implementation of careful safeguards for the safe use of medical cannabis.”
He’s trying to pull a fast one on voters, and it’s not going to work.
The “safeguards” are direct government involvement in the growth of cannabis and the operation of a state-owned dispensary — total control. Further, the bill requires the government to set the price of cannabis in this monopoly market — a violation of both conservative principles and the state’s constitution.
It’s important to note that HB197 first failed in the Legislature and was barely revived after its sponsor, Rep. Brad Daw, pleaded with colleagues to not kill the bill. It ended up passing out of the House of Representatives with the minimum number of votes required.
But what of the “safe use of medical cannabis” Herbert mentions? This sounds like something we can all get behind. After all, who supports its unsafe use? What this statement does not reveal is that the incremental step taken by the Legislature this year only allows for access to cannabis by patients with an “incurable and irreversible disease” that will “produce death within six months.”
In other words, Utahns have to be at death’s door for their government to grant them the freedom to ingest a natural plant into their bodies. Thankfully, a vast majority of Utahns have sufficient common sense to reject this cruel paternalism, instead extending compassion and relief to those who merely want the freedom to make medical choices without state interference. Patients should not be treated as criminals.
Herbert continues by claiming that the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, if turned into law by voters in November, would “potentially open the door to recreational use.” Yet nearly two dozen states have adopted medical cannabis laws without any recreational “slippery slope.” It is extremely unlikely that a majority of Utahns would ever vote to legalize cannabis for recreational use. But that “potential,” which is many decades away if at all (support for recreational use polls below 20 percent), is no reason to deny legitimate medical opportunities to the sick and suffering among us — those with cancer, epilepsy, MS and more.
And remember, cannabis can’t kill you. Opiates can, and do — two dozen Utahns die each month because of them. And plenty are harmed by “recreational” alcohol, which is legal and generates substantial profits for programs that elected officials like Herbert strongly advocate for.
To be clear: Allowing sick Utahns to use medical cannabis won’t be a utopia. For some, it won’t work and they’ll move on to search for other remedies. Some will surely use it without an actual medical need, just as they already do now with marijuana or prescription drugs. But the whole point of November’s vote is to give patients who do need it, and who can benefit from it, the option of doing so.
Right now, medical cannabis users in Utah face fines, jail time and having their children taken from them. That’s an untenable position, but it’s one that too many elected officials in Utah support — including the governor.
Plainly put, he’s being fed half-truths and blatant misinformation from a few vocal opponents, including some powerful special-interest groups. In light of every recent poll we’ve seen, we remain extremely confident that voters throughout Utah will see through the fear and false claims to no longer treat patients as criminals come November.
Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute, a free-market think tank based in Lehi. He is the author of 14 books, including the Tuttle Twins children’s series.