Jeffrey D. Allred
When it comes to crafting good public policy, legislative language must create clarity not confusion. A Kirton McConkie report on Utah's medical marijuana initiative lists seven pages of serious public concerns raised by the marijuana initiative.

It is possible to be for the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes and be absolutely against the Utah initiative. To suggest otherwise is a false choice.

Utahns are a compassionate people who have shown a commitment to help all people hurting or in need, particularly those with chronic conditions and those desperate for help. Doctors and health care professionals show a similar commitment to alleviate suffering while also ensuring they “do no harm.” It isn’t surprising, then, that those in the medical community against this proposition, as well as others, understand you don’t help one person by hurting many others — particularly teenagers and those vulnerable to abuses of drugs.

The initiative is flawed and would produce far-reaching, and potentially devastating, unintended consequences. In the rush to potentially alleviate the suffering of some, it is crucial to ensure that solutions do not create suffering for many.

From these pages, the Deseret News has long urged the federal government to reschedule marijuana from a schedule 1 to a schedule 2 drug, which would allow for the kind of effective research that precedes the legalization of other prescription drugs. Only through such research could physicians know how much to prescribe, how the drug might interact with other prescriptions, the potential side effects and expected outcomes. We have applauded Utah for strides made in advancing the use of cannabis oil for medical treatment.

When it comes to crafting good public policy, legislative language must create clarity, not confusion. Guidelines and guardrails must be clearly established, and unintended consequences must be fully understood and weighed against the public good. We understand the desire “to just do it” and alleviate some suffering. But one need only look at the devastating, life-ruining consequences of opioid use to know the risks of not fully understanding a drug's impact — even one brought about by significant research.

Many of the initiative’s flaws are outlined in a report by the law firm Kirton McConkie, which was tasked by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to study the initiative. That report, released Friday, ought to give every Utah voter reason to reconsider support toward this initiative.

Some of what the law firm uncovered had been previously raised as concerns by this page. Some of it shed light on flaws and problems previously undiscovered. Virtually none of it, we are convinced, was known by the majority of people who signed petitions to put the medical marijuana initiative on ballots this fall.

Those petitions are under review. Independent efforts are underway to convince signers to withdraw their signatures. The argument is that many signed the initiative without reading it or understanding all of the potential implications. Those who did not read the petition when they signed it, or did not recognize the sweeping consequences and full scope of what the initiative would do, have until Tuesday to remove their signatures.

The Kirton McConkie review highlighted that a Cannabinoid Product Board charged with reviewing studies and recommending guidelines would be prohibited from limiting the availability of cannabis, no matter what science eventually might find. Doctors would not be required to follow up with patients to see how they are responding to treatment.

Perhaps most disturbing, the initiative is worded so poorly that it may weaken the penalties for causing an injury while driving a vehicle under influence of the drug.

Proponents will point to myriad studies abroad they say prove marijuana’s effectiveness. However, a recent piece by Dr. David Casarett in the Journal of the American Medical Association raised troubling concerns about the reliability of such studies, presenting evidence that placebo-controlled trials were flawed because participants were not adequately blinded.

The Kirton McConkie report lists seven pages of serious public concerns raised by the marijuana initiative. Among the highlights are that it would allow people who live more than 100 miles from a dispensary to grow up to six cannabis plants on their own for personal medical use.

Proponents have told us this would be an incentive for the state to approve more dispensaries. However, in a state as vast and sparsely populated as Utah, it likely would give rise to considerable private marijuana cultivation beyond the reach of law enforcement.

Doctors could provide patients with a medical cannabis card after just one visit without the need for any follow-up visits. That card would be good for six months, allowing purchase of a set amount. But there would be no way for law enforcement to distinguish between personally grown marijuana, under terms of the initiative, and that which may have been purchased illegally.

In addition, the state would have to honor medical marijuana cards from other states, further complicating efforts to limit abuse.

The report notes that most usage in other states is approved for relief of chronic or severe pain, a condition difficult to diagnose with certainty.

It cites figures from other states to show Utah could expect medical marijuana users to be mostly young, just as it could expect overall usage to increase over current low levels. The initiative would allow dispensaries to operate 300 feet from a residential neighborhood and only 600 feet from a school.

Absent in much of the nationwide push toward legalization of marijuana is a serious discussion of its harmful side effects, from respiratory problems and memory loss to its impact on the minds and motivation of young people. Utah cannot afford to sanction greater exposure to this drug without a thorough understanding of what is at stake.

We are aware of no other instance in which the public has been asked to vote on whether to approve a new drug for prescription use. The Food and Drug Administration is tasked with such things, using qualified scientists and doctors.

59 comments on this story

Utahns should not be cajoled into legislating by ballot initiative through the presentation of a false choice. Some proponents argue that if you are against the marijuana initiative, you are a cruel, heartless person who doesn’t care about those who are suffering. That is a false choice. True compassion includes fully understanding the consequences of decisions and actions.

The report from Kirton McConkie is a timely warning against pursuing an emotional rush to pass a reckless initiative. Being for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and against this flawed initiative is congruent, compassionate and wise.