Parkites lead the push for medical cannabis
September 8, 2015
Medical cannabis is a safe, effective way to treat all manner of illnesses and symptoms, and can be superior to pharmaceutical drugs. That’s the message Erin Brown and Jessica Reade Gleim are spreading throughout their community and state.
Brown and Reade Gleim, both longtime residents of Park City, are executive board members at Drug Policy Project of Utah (DPP), a nonprofit that is advocating for medical cannabis (i.e., marijuana) in Utah.
DPP has been focused on advocating over the past year for legislation sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen (R – Saratoga Springs) that would create a medical cannabis system in Utah under which patients suffering from a list of specific illnesses or maladies would have access to the plant to alleviate suffering.
Madsen introduced his bill during the last legislative session and, while it passed out of committee in the Senate, it ultimately failed before the entire Senate by a single vote. Summit County’s two senators, Kevin Van Tassell (R- Vernal) and Allen Christensen (R – Ogden) both voted No.
Madsen will be re-introducing his bill again in the upcoming legislative session.
"All we care about is providing medical cannabis to patients and so whatever bill or whatever legislation that we can get that provides the greatest access is the legislation that we would support," said Brown, who noted that Madsen’s bill is very conservative in its scope.
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"In terms of the patient side of things, there is a fairly short list of disease states [or conditions] that are going to be allowed to have their doctors recommend medical cannabis to them. So AIDS patients, certain epileptic conditions, cancer, Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases — my point is, if you were to compare it to California even, the umbrella of patients it will cover is not really that vast."
Brown said one of the "sticking points from last year" was post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"HHS Committee, as well as the senators in general, are worried that that could be too broad and there’s not enough research," said Brown. "Sen. Madsen’s bill has been tweaked to specifically cite combat-related PTSD. So that’s not a bad thing, but PTSD unfortunately doesn’t stop there.
"We’re working with what we have here in Utah," she said.
"We want to advocate for as many different types of patients and many different types of symptoms as possible," said Reade Gleim. "And the other part of that is, let that decision be made with the physician and with the patient."
Brown and Reade Gleim have been participating in Utah’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Interim Committee meetings in recent months.
"There is so much speculation and negative connotations or associations with cannabis in general. And we’re really working hard at the DPP to share stories of patients, of how this bill can affect and change lives for people all over our state," said Reade Gleim. "And how this is something that is so necessary for so many people and they really need to take a serious look at this. A couple years ago the [medical cannabis] bill passed for children with epilepsy and it’s wonderful that we’ve been able to provide help for so many children that need that help, but there are children that have other seizure disorders. There are adults with seizure disorders. The amount of people that could benefit from medical cannabis is so vast, and that’s one of the things we’ve been wanting to share, and we’ve been invited to share, with the legislature."
Though Madsen’s bill never made it to the House last session, Reade Gleim has gotten the sense that "they’re definitely open to hearing more and learning more."
"They want to see medical evidence, they want to see research, and they want to see proof from physicians," she said. "And that makes sense, but the problem is that it’s still a Schedule 1 drug. Research can’t be done here in the United States — very limited research."
The federal drug "Schedules" were created in 1970. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, "Schedule I drugs are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence."
Other Schedule 1 drugs include heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
The HHS Committee members, Brown said, are "sort of fascinated" by "the Colorado situation."
Colorado is one of three states (plus the District of Columbia) that regulates recreational marijuana.
"Obviously in Utah, and I’m with them, we’re concerned about cannabis in the hands of children, untethered access to children and advertising to children, and of course the problem is that none of that is allowed in any legislation, nor would it ever be," said Brown. "This is also strictly a conservative medicinal cannabis bill, not recreation. So Colorado is not really a great example.
"I sense a little bit of fear in some of the members of the Committee that ‘it’s a slippery slope to full legalization and there’s going to be all this advertising to kids,’ and this and that," she said.
"That’s not what we’re advocating for," added Reade Gleim. "We’re not Colorado. I don’t know if everybody realizes that there are 23 other states that have medical cannabis."
Brown and Reade Gleim are "so passionate about this" because of Reade Gleim’s health issues.
"I have a nerve disease. I’ve been in chronic pain the last five years of my life," she said.
"And that has really put my life on hold in a lot of ways in the last five years. On top of that I’ve had brain surgery, and after that surgery I then started developing chronic migraines caused by another facial nerve. So I get pain from that, and it’s just — being young, not being able to have children because you take a giant cocktail of medications, I quit what at the time was my dream job last summer, because I couldn’t keep up, I couldn’t work 40 hours a week. And there needs to be more options than this. There needs to be more options that just saying ‘Here’s medication, if that doesn’t work let’s add some more doses.’ And then you get the side effects of everything and you take more drugs and on and on and on."
"We have all these drugs approved by the FDA," she said. "We just had OxyContin approved as an option to treat 11 year olds, as young as 11 with chronic pain. Those drugs will stop your heart! Cannabis doesn’t work that way."
The pair of Parkites will be continuing to educate about cannabis as the next legislative session draws nearer. They say a big part of the task is overcoming the "fear" ingrained in people. They explain to legislators that "you can’t overdose on it" and that "cannabis sits right below coffee in its addiction potential."
They say Utahns are on their side.
"In Utah, we commissioned a poll," Brown said, "and 72 percent of Utahns support medical cannabis. This is not something that we’re shoving down anyone’s throat here. This is something the population is not scared of and is in support of."
For more information about the Drug Policy Project of Utah, including patient testimonials from dozens of Utahns and an October 16 fundraiser in Park City, visit its website (http://www.dpputah.org ), or follow it on Facebook or Twitter. Hear more from DPP Executive Board Members Erin Brown and Jessica Reade Gleim on Thursday, Sept. 10, when they’ll be on KPCW’s "Cool Science Radio."