What Mark Shurtleff makes of legalizing medical marijuana and much, much more

The movement to legalize cannabis for patient use has grown considerably throughout the United States, including Utah. A representative of the grassroots organization, the Utah Cannabis Coalition sat down on August 6, 2013 in the new Sugarhouse office of former 3 time Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff in order to obtain his personal opinion with regards to this critical issue. It was clear that Mr. Shurtleff was not stereotypical “cop”, instead he was kind, honest and inquisitive. The interview was an honest look at one mans’ opinion of numerous subjects, including medical marijuana

It should be noted that Mr. Shurtleff recently published a fascinating look atDred Scott (entitled “Am I not a man?, the Dred Scott Story”), is also a proud husband and father and has been faced with considering using cannabis to help treat the side effects of his chemotherapy.

Mr. Shurtleff first revealed he was tempted to use cannabis while being treated for colon cancer and subsequent chemotherapy, however he never did try it. He discussed the known side-effects of the treatment and admitted the known benefits of cannabis, to treat nausea, which did tempt him. Instead of an all natural, herbal medicine, he was taking prescription drugs such as Oxymorphone and liquid opium every 2 hours to treat his pain and agreed that these powerful pain prescriptions can be addictive, dangerous, even deadly. He also acknowledged that legally allowing a patient to choose their own route of treatment, even if it is one they can grow their own, would be his preference.

He spoke of the ability of Utah lawmakersto legalize and tax medical marijuana, thereby making personal use an option for Utah patients. Local current and former Utah lawmakers who support the legalization effort (or who has been accepting of the idea and asked for additional information) include Rebecca Chavez-HouckChristine WatkinsDan Oaks and Lynn Hemingway.

Mr. Shurtleff also discussed how a federal mandate to lead to legalization could be created in addition to the requirements of the 10th Amendment. He agreed that this can be achieved if “done right, if regulated and not abused”. He advised the state of Utah to “take lessons from other states, evaluate what has been sustainable and beneficial for their patients and economy”.

Other issues the former Attorney General spoke about included:

  1. The huge cost of jailing non-violent cannabis users
  2. A “Home Grow” option for Utah patients
  3. Model Utah laws after successful medicinal cannabis states, considering how all 20 states who have already approved some type of medicinal cannabis
  4. The benefits of Hemp were also discussed, including how farmers could start legally growing and benefiting from it, the impact on jobs, income and quality of life
  5. The recreational use of marijuana in Utah as well as the taxes the state could earn and used for a wide variety of social needs, such as providing affordable treatment for children with medical or psychological conditions or providing school lunches for any Utah child in need
  6. The best route to introduce a bill to legalize medical marijuana and/or hemp in Utah

The discussion went on to compare the profits the state of Utah has made through its’ state regulated liquor sales. The Utah net profits for alcohol in 2012 was $70,787,797.00, per DABC Representative, Benn Buys (CPA), Director of Finance, Utah Department of Alcholic Beverage Control (bbuys@utah.gov or 801-977-6838), whereas the profit for cannabis retail sales (both medicinal and recreational) for Colorado in 2012 was $219,320,929. Mr. Shurtleff questioned what type of return could be expected in Utah if cannabis were legalized and listened to both arguments for medicinal only versus recreational cannabis.

Mr. Shurtleff went on to in inquire about the rumors he had heard that cannabis can actually kill cancer. He was advised that Israel developed strain of marijuana with less than 1% THC (average is 1-5% per the NTHSA) and 40% CBD (cannabidiol). He also discussed the National Cannabis Industry Association/NCIA, Forever Green and the many uses of Industrial Hemp and growing it in Utah.

Mr. Shurtleff then suggested holding an informative symposium in which Legalize Utah could team up with local upper educational institutes such as the University of Utah, physicians who support the use of cannabis as medicine, patients who can give testimonials as to the effectiveness of cannabis, what type of condition, has been treated. He believes that media exposure is critical in the education of the true benefits of cannabis, of Media interest and the concept of “earned media”.

When questioned about his belief as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormons) alcohol policy, he believes “it would be hypocritical of LDS Church not to support the use of medical marijuana”. He was then advised of an article this author published in 3/2010 when interviewing a representative of the LDS church and their official view of cannabis (click this link for that article).

Mr. Shurltleff also gave his opinion regarding non-violent drug diversion programs for prisoners in addition to his support of Utahs’ “Drug Court” because:

  1. 1/10th cost to treat versus incarceration
  2. Reform possibilities
  3. Families, forcing children into foster care
  4. Creating more productive citizens

Another option he approves of is the “DORA – Drug Offender Reform Act” in which prisoners are diverted. He supports a “fiscally conservative drug program” in which the state could model from other, successful states and learn from their obstacles and possibility of abuse in the system.

When asked if he had ever considered using cannabis to treat children, he admitted that he never had. He was advised him of a woman who had been treated since the age of 10 with medical marijuana by her mother for her severe symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and agreed it sounded like a viable option.

Mandatory drug testing at local companies was then discussed. Mr. Shurlteff indicated:

Employers should test only for those positions which could be physically risky or dangerous or high risk, such as a driver. No need for any test for cannabis use for jobs with loss risk employees”.

He opposes “decriminalization” in general and does not support LEAP – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which is an organization of current and former members of law enforcement throughout the United States. He has debated members of LEAP, upholding his belief that while he thinks legalizing marijuana to be reasonable, he does not believe that other, actual drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin such be legalized.

He went on to discuss the high cost of cannabis prohibition, including the high costs of incarceration, court, personal, family and to society and confirmed he does support the legalization of cannabis for medicinal use in Utah.

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