UT: I Hate Initiatives, But I Signed The Medical Marijuana Petition

Photo Credit: Don Ryan

I signed the petition for the medical marijuana ballot initiative.

Mostly because I felt pity for the harried guy shuffling around my neighborhood meeting door after door. Partly because I wanted to see who else on my block had signed it. But only somewhat because I wanted to see the initiative on the ballot.

I hate ballot initiatives. They are the worst way to legislate. They often are poorly worded, conflict with existing law and have unintended consequences that are hard to fix. And there’s little accountability for such unintended consequences. Whom are voters going to vote out when things go awry — themselves?

The legislative process works better when we can hold our own representative accountable in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.

With the recent proliferation of ballot initiatives, not only does money now rule our legislative process even more than it did before, but issue-backers now raise funds to collect signatures only to pull the rug out from all those voters with a “compromise” hashed out in a back room, behind a closed door in the Capitol.

The sheer waste of it all is such a First World embarrassment.

But back to medical marijuana. Out of all the initiatives, this is the one I wanted to see on the ballot, mostly because our prudishly Victorian Legislature has been so slow to respond to the obvious need. (Looking at you, state monopoly of alcohol.)

I suffer from chronic migraines. They’re nothing compared with some of the debilitating ailments listed on the initiative’s list of qualifying problems, including cancer, cerebral palsy and the like.

But they’re still bad. I get about five migraines a week. Along with the medicine I take when I feel one coming on, I take preventive medication (that obviously isn’t working very well).

I’ve tried anti-seizure medication, beta-blockers and antidepressants. With each new attempt I experience one or two new side effects, including weight gain, tiredness and hair loss. One even made me forget simple vocabulary words.

I’m about to start injecting, voluntarily, the botulinum toxin into more than 90 entry points on my neck and scalp. I’m looking forward to the knowing looks of judgmental women who think I’m part of the reason Utah is known for extreme beauty regimens.

No, I’m not trying to look younger. I’m trying to get through the day.

What’s the point of my comparably benign medical history? There is nothing worse than not feeling well. Nothing. We don’t realize the blessing of good health until it’s gone.

For some, pain and sickness are a way of life. We see our loved ones suffer through constant pain and would do anything to make it even just a little bit better — including being OK with a mostly harmless herbal remedy that might help, especially in light of the far more dangerous and deadly class of opiate painkillers.

In my own desperation, I may have tried some special chocolate bars up in Oregon once upon a time. I got an even bigger migraine. But I sure was relaxed about it!

(Bishop, do we need to chat about this??)

The fact is, medical marijuana should be an option for those who suffer from chronic pain or debilitating illness. Not just when they have six months to live. Now. So that they really can live.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently weighed in on the ballot initiative by allowing its counsel to publicly release a legal memorandum prepared to highlight concerns with the initiative. This memo is a stronger statement than its earlier tepid support for a statement in opposition from the Utah Medical Association — a statement about a statement, really.

The memo makes some good points, including the direct confrontation state-legalized marijuana would have with federal law, the increased federal penalties state residents might face for possessing marijuana and firearms or the difficulties law enforcement might have in light of relatively quick document destruction.

The church’s warnings about “homegrown” dispensaries, though, is overwrought. The initiative allows a person with a medical card to grow up to six plants for personal use if there is no dispensary within 100 miles and away from residential and community homes.

No one will be growing marijuana in their backyard. At least not legally.

While I still believe initiatives are not the best way to legislate, and there will most definitely be regulations the Legislature will need to tweak to make work, it’s time for Utah to join its neighbors in allowing this relief to those who are suffering.

The train has left the station. Utah, as in the LDS Church and the Legislature, shouldn’t be so afraid to get on board. If they don’t, they’ll be left behind.