Utah Medical Marijuana 

Cannabis Canvas: Activist prods Utah lawmakers to support medical marijuana.

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Though most of Utah’s western neighbors now allow it, Utah’s grass-roots movement to legalize medical marijuana is still, well, just roots.

One activist and medical marijuana user has set out to push the movement forward, e-mailing each of Utah’s legislators in hopes of finding those who might support the cause. She hasn’t found even one supporter, much less a champion.

Each Republican that replied has been negative and one even referred to her e-mail as “spam,” while only one Democrat even bothered to respond.

Gradi Jordan, 42, of Taylorsville, has never been an activist, but medical marijuana is a deeply personal issue that is now prodding her to take political action. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 15, she’s had a lifetime of experience with psychoactive prescription drugs.

“I have been on pretty much every medicine there is for bipolar, from lithium to Seroquel. I’ve also had two years of ECT [electroconvulsive therapy] treatments where they blast your brain with electricity. Nothing helped. The only thing that keeps the moods even and keeps me on even keel is smoking pot or eating pot.”

Following a “break down” and hospitalization about four years ago, she received repeated ECT treatments, and as a side effect forgot how to read and type, skills she has since relearned. Though she had health insurance, another “side effect” of ECT was $250,000 in medical debt, which forced her into bankruptcy. She says marijuana is the only substance she now uses to treat her condition, and she feels, while not perfect, better than ever.

She’s also diabetic, and says marijuana’s ability to stimulate appetite helps her eat bland foods that keep her glucose in check, even if she might prefer something else.

Earlier this year, she helped organize Utah’s first chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, but soon left the group over personality conflicts with other members. Now solo, she began her e-mail campaign in October.

In her e-mail to legislators, Jordan argues that marijuana can be effective in treating a variety of conditions, from cancer to multiple sclerosis, more cheaply and safely than conventional treatments. She also asks for their support of reforms.

But the paradigm shift happening in many states—13 now allow medical marijuana, while 17 other states have various marijuana reform bills currently under review, according to NORML—hasn’t hit Utah.

Ogden Police Chief Sen. Jon Greiner, R-Ogden, who referred to Jordan’s e-mail campaign as “spam,” wrote that he would never support medical marijuana until “the FDA gives me evidence that the 454 elements contained within marijuana are all safe.” He also wants evidence that marijuana is not a gateway drug.

Sen. Curt Bramble did not explain his opposition, but wrote, “I understand your passion and respect your opinion,” still, he “work diligently” to defeat any effort to legalize medical marijuana. Sen. Margararet Dayton, R-Orem, replied, “I am ditto w/Senator Bramble [sic].”

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-West Jordan, wrote, “We [the Republican majority] also would most likely not vote to legalize tobacco in today’s society, were it not already legal.”

The only Democrat to respond was Salt Lake City Rep. Christine Johnson, who referred Jordan to federal representatives. In all, seven out of 29 senators responded, and just two of 75 representatives.

Utah House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, applauds Jordan’s effort, saying “that’s the type of civic engagement we need more of in this country.” He also explained Democrats’ near silence. “Legislators may feel or perceive a risk of coming out publicly on this issue.” Jordan noted in her e-mail—in all capital letters—that the lawmakers’ responses would be posted to her Facebook group, “Legalize Utah.”

Overall, Litvack said his party is willing to discuss medical marijuana legalization, but members need to meet with more interested constituents—privately at first—who can create the need for a real public policy debate.

“I think medical use of marijuana is very worthy of exploring and talking further about. I think a lot of [Democrat lawmakers] don’t understand the issue,” he said. “[But] it really took a very robust, grassroots movement to generate the energy to get it on the ballot [in other states]. I just don’t see that as a presence in Utah.”

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Jesse Fruhwirth

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