Medical marijuana patients and advocates wipe away tears as they listen to Sen. Mark Madsen’s closing comments before voting on SB73 at the Utah State Senate on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. After days of debate Madsen came to tears as the voting started. Ultimately, SB73 — a whole-plant marijuana extract measure — failed in a House committee.

Source: Approve the CARERS Act

CHRISTINE STENQUIST, special to the Standard-Examiner

Opinions on medical cannabis use are changing in Utah. Every day, more patients share their stories of relief and recovery. The families and friends of patients have witnessed how the medicinal use of this herb has helped their loved ones and are ready for policy change. I, too, am one of those patients whose life was transformed by the use of cannabis.

At 24, I underwent brain surgery for a benign tumor. During the surgery, a blood vessel was nicked that caused hemorrhaging and I slipped into a coma. I suffered a stroke resulting in weakness, speech and swallowing complications, and issues with coordination and balance. Soon after, the muscle spasms and vertigo associated with my fibromyalgia diagnosis began. As months passed, more symptoms manifested. The severe symptoms and extreme pain left me unable to perform even the simplest tasks.

My doctors recommended very strong pain medications. The high doses of these opioids made me so physically and mentally withdrawn that I was unable to hold a job or engage with family and friends; and still, the pain did not go away completely. For a decade, my condition took an emotional toll on my life. Failed therapies would leave me utterly crushed. I knew it was impossible for me to continue like this and so I began to research alternative medication. Although I feared the legal consequences, the benefits outweighed my trepidation. With marked improvements, I started my advocacy.

Today, thanks to the efforts of advocates, 28 states have legalized/decriminalized medical marijuana. Utah currently allows the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil for severe epilepsy. But CBD is not enough. Many of us need THC to treat our conditions. Thankfully, several lawmakers are drafting bills in support of medical cannabis. While states are enacting compassionate and science-based policies, federal prohibition remains.

Federal cannabis prohibition creates many problems for patients. First, it significantly restricts medical research, preventing the development of new medications. The more we delay this research, the more patients will continue to live in physical, mental and emotional pain.

Secondly, cannabis possession is still a federal crime. The thought of being arrested, having a record, and being kept away from my kids, simply for using medical cannabis keeps me up at night. Nobody should fear arrest for trying to live a better life. The appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General has created a lot of concern, given his past disdain for all forms of cannabis. Many fear a crackdown on medical cannabis is possible.

Thankfully, our friends in Washington, D.C., have proposed a solution: The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act (CARERS Act). The CARERS Act would expand research and decriminalize the use of medical cannabis for those who use it in compliance with state law. This bill would lead to the development of new medications and bring much-needed peace of mind to patients.

More Utahns could support the efforts of patients and advocates, especially our government leaders. The support of Utah Senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch is essential to pass the CARERS Act due to their membership on the Judiciary Committee. More important, their support for the bill would benefit thousands of Americans who use medical marijuana. As locals in Utah like me search for a solution, I am confident our representatives in our nation’s capital will hear our voices.