With medical marijuana continuing to be a hot topic on Capitol Hill, it came as no surprise that the topic was the only one discussed during Wednesday’s hearing in the Health and Human Services Interim Committee.
In general, it appeared that the HHS committee was at least warming to the idea of considering a law that would allow the legal purchase of the Schedule I drug. This statement was bolstered by the first hour of the discussion when members of the public shared their personal stories of marijuana use in light of various severe illnesses.
The committee was further intrigued after hearing from Dr. Edward Clark, Chair of the University of Utah Health Care’s Department of Pediatrics and Chief Medical Officer of Intermountain Healthcare’s Primary Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Clark informed the committee of the status of research currently taking place in the state and across the nation in regards to the study of cannabinoid oil in the treatment of various ailments, in particular how the drug may help to reduce the pain of children who suffer from severe and multiple seizures on a regular basis.
Dr. Clark explained that the most difficult hurdle has not been attempting to find patients or funds, but federal regulations that classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug; a classification that makes research nearly impossible as such drugs are legally classified as “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Many have complained that such a classification creates a Catch 22 for marijuana research, where doctors can not easily obtain the drug for research due to its criminal status, meaning that research is severely limited, meaning that no medical use can be determined, meaning that it remains a drug not easily obtainable.
But Dr. Clark was optimistic, saying “about 17 percent of children will have adverse effects, they are generally mild; but there have been serious adverse effects including liver failure… as with most things we do in medicine, there are benefits, there are risks, [and doctors ask] how do we balance those?”
However, the sparks began to fly when Dr. Kevin Sabet joined the committee via Skype. Sabet, the President and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), would spend the remainder of the committee’s time talking about the dangers of marijuana use.
Sabet would focus the majority of his presentation on Colorado, which has legalized recreational use of marijuana. After making a plea that policymakers need to make sure they are “separating emotion from science” during the debate, and acknowledging that there may be medicinal benefits to marijuana, Sabet spent the majority of his time under what can only be interpreted as “reefer madness.”
Claiming that marijuana might have medicinal benefits is a shift in tone compared to last year, when Sabet campaigned against any sort of legalization whatsoever during 2014’s debate over legalization of cannabinoids for a particular set of medical conditions, particularly in children.
During his nine-minute attack on full legalization in general and Colorado’s full legalization in particular, Sabet would claim that there have been “multiple deaths” due to the drug (“now more than two”, he would confess, due not to the drug itself, but from injuries sustained while on the drug); increases in crime; workplace safety and drug test issues; the marketing of marijuana to children; fires from THC extraction; that legalization won’t save state budgets, and that the nation is creating a new “big tobacco.” Indeed, during the nine minutes Sabet would acknowledge, in passing, that his statements didn’t actually apply to Utah.
The air would go out of the room when Sabet responded to a question from Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) – who sponsored last year’s attempt to pass full medical marijuana in the state – what type of doctor Sabet was. “What is your level of medical training?” Madsen asked Sabet, who acknowledged he is a “…social policy/public policy Ph.D.” During his presentation Sabet made no attempts to clarify what his doctorate was in or that he was not a medical doctor.
Madsen went on to say that “my bill has never and will never contemplate in-home cultivation… the studies show that states that adopt a medical cannabis policy have seen no increase in teen use, although, even in Utah there are some who persist, or at least insinuate, that it does.”
“It is an insult to all of us to suggest that that is the direction that people want to go – full recreational,” Madsen would add before pointing out that Sabet’s presentation lacked data from states where only medicinal use was legal but full legalization was not.
Connor Boyack of the Libertas Institute attacked Sabet’s overall presentation, noting that several of the studies that Sabet presented have been refuted. “It is hard to even know where to go [to begin addressing Sabet’s comments], there are so many comments… it is a straw man to say what has happened in Colorado will happen in Utah. There are many things they have done wrong and are doing wrong… we can learn from Colorado what not to do.”
Boyack would close by stating that there are several states where medical marijuana laws are working, and it is because they are working that we’re not hearing about them.
What was agreed upon was that the discussion was far from over. The discussion will continue into the next two interim sessions.