On the EDge: Not surprised by Hatch’s medical cannabis bill

Composite stock image, St. George News

OPINION — I’ve known Orrin Hatch, Utah’s most-senior senator, for about 20 years now.

I have interviewed him countless times, sat in editorial board policy meetings with him and debated issues, visited with him in strictly personal, off-the-record meetings.

That’s why I was not surprised last week when he introduced a bipartisan bill that, in essence, supports the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes and calls for more research into its efficacy.

The senator and I have divergent political ideologies, to be sure.

But, what I have learned about him is that behind the political facade he exhibits as the good and loyal Republican, there is also a certain sensibility and compassion that lurks beneath the political bravado.

He may not be a Republican by today’s Alt-Right or Tea Party standards, but he is most definitely an old-school Republican reminiscent, at least to me, of the statesman-like Barry Goldwater and Bob Dole who preached a hardline Republican game, but when it came time to make a major decision put it all aside and explored what could be done for the good of the country.

And, make no mistake about it, Hatch’s current leanings on the issue of medicinal cannabis is a major decision that must be made for the good of the country.

“In our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis,” Hatch said when introducing his bill on the Senate floor. “While I certainly do not support the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, the evidence shows that cannabis possesses medicinal properties that can truly change people’s lives for the better.”

Hatch went on to say that cannabis “has the potential to help millions of Americans,” and that it “can truly change people’s lives for the better.”

Read more: Hatch: ‘It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana’

Look, during the early days of legalization for medicinal purposes, I, too, thought it was all just a simple nudge and a wink thing, that a bunch of old stoners had found a way to beat the suits at their own game to have legal access to marijuana.

And, as a child of the ‘60s, I gave them props.

My generation was the original testbed for pot. It was a generational thing, to be sure, but it seriously cut across the vast demographics of ‘60s culture. It wasn’t only the hippies who smoked joints at rock concerts, there were plenty of conservatives, too, who found comfort in Mother Nature. Every president since Jimmy Carter has some familiarity with the plant, some supporting decriminalization efforts, others admitting to partaking in its use.

I would pretty much guarantee that Orrin Hatch has never fired up a big fat one. There’s just too much religious and cultural DNA in his genes to allow such behavior.

But, like all of us, I am sure he has seen plenty of examples of how debilitating opioid treatments can be for those suffering from disease or chronic pain. I’m sure he is familiar with the startling numbers associated with opioid addiction and overdose. And, I am sure he is familiar with research that has found cannabis as a safe and effective alternative for many uses.

Don’t discount that part.

Ask your pharmacist how many drugs have off-label applications.

Baby aspirin is used not only to alleviate pain or fever, but to prevent heart attacks or strokes.

Old-school antidepressants are used now to treat neuropathy.

And, we all know about a medication called sildenafil that was developed to control pulmonary arterial hypertension but was found to also help relieve erectile dysfunction. It has since been rebranded, of course, as Viagra.

So, it is not out of the ordinary for cannabis to be found effective for a number of medical conditions. That’s why we see people touting it for ailments from wasting from cancer treatments to auto-immune diseases that cause severe inflammation problems to menstrual cramps.

I recall sitting across the table from the senator and listening as he passionately defended stem cell research, urging the need to consider “the science behind it,” as he said.

I recall sitting across the table from the senator when he was talking about encouraging research into new drug therapies based on an individual’s DNA, which would create a unique medication for each patient that would be most effective in treatment to fight our most deleterious diseases and to examine “the science behind it.”

And, on another level, I recall how he was the impetus behind the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990, which has so far paid out more than $2 billion to victims of fallout from the horrific nuclear detonations at the Nevada Test Site during the Cold War. The bill had kicked around the Senate since the 1970s with some strong Democratic backing, including a draft sponsored by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1979. Hatch doggedly pursued the legislation until it was enacted in 1990.

So, despite our political differences, I can see humanity within the man.

There are 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, with laws on the books that have legalized the medicinal use of cannabis.

The Utah Legislature has caved to church and political pressures and given lip service to proposed legalization. As a result, a group in Utah, called the Utah Patients Coalition, is pushing for voter approval of medicinal cannabis next year. It claims its polls show that 64 percent of Republican voters and 63 percent of active voters who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints support legalizing medicinal cannabis. It also claims its polls show that older voters in Utah support medical cannabis legalization at an even higher rate, that 75 percent of voters 50 and older are in favor of medical use. When chronic pain is brought into the equation, 72 percent of all respondents said they felt cannabis should be available for treatment.

I understand that legalizing medicinal cannabis does not ensure that there won’t be people taking advantage of the law, that there won’t be those who fake their way into a prescription.

But, given the fact that throughout recorded history there has not been one incident of a cannabis overdose, that there are no physically addictive properties attached to cannabis and that it is an affordable, efficient way for those suffering to find relief, it is time to reconsider the sham that has been prohibition.

It’s not only the compassionate thing to do, but the right thing to do.

No bad days!

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • tcrider September 19, 2017 at 8:32 am

    I also hope that this can get some traction, there is suppose to have been
    some real breakthroughs with thc based medicine that eliminates most of the high
    and benefits for arthritis and chronic pain, but its probably already tied to some
    pharmaceutical that figures they need to make at least 1500% of it.

  • Who September 19, 2017 at 8:48 am

    But, what I have learned about him is that behind the political facade he exhibits as the good and loyal Republican, there is also a certain sensibility and compassion that lurks beneath the political bravado.

    So,, are you saying you have to be a Democrat in order for something like this to not be written about you? I myself am not a Democrat or Republican for this very reason. No need for this kind of underlying hatred. I understand this is only an opinion but, if it going to be publicized it should be done with EVERYONE’S feelings in mind.

  • NotSoFast September 19, 2017 at 8:57 am

    OK, I have to admit, you are capable of writing logical articles when you have a good nights rest.

    • mctrialsguy September 19, 2017 at 9:57 am

      I agree, as I do not generally agree with anything that Ed on the EDge has to say, I agree with him on this one. Good writing Ed!

  • DRT September 19, 2017 at 9:33 am

    You mentioned that older folks are, in large part, in agreement with making medical marijuana legal. I’m sure, that a lot of their reasoning comes from personal experience when they were younger. They have used mj themselves at one time or another, and realize that there is less harm from a joint, than from an alcoholic drink, and much less harm from mj, than from tobacco!
    They are also bright enough to realize that opioids are a much bigger problem then a little grass. Of course, we aren’t talking about recreational use, just medicinal use. And that makes it even more sensible to make medical use legal.
    Now then, we need to take a long hard look at people and organizations that are dead set against any change in the law. First, there is organized crime. These criminals recognize that any type of legalization, is going to hurt their business. And anyone who doesn’t realize that certain politicians are in organized crime’s pocket, are either naive, or delusional.
    Then you have law enforcement. There is so much money that law enforcement receives because of drug laws. They don’t want to lose all that government money and military equipment that they are given. They also don’t want to lose the money they get from “asset forfeiture.” Read that as theft, because everything that is seized and disposed of without said seizure being part of a sentence imposed by the courts, is nothing but theft.
    These are two extremely powerful groups that will fight any type of relaxation of current drug laws. Meanwhile, our nails, prisons and court systems are so bogged down with “drug criminals” that they have a very hard time handling violent crimes.
    Until the laws making marijuana a schedule one drug, this total waste of resources will continue, costing the taxpayer, you and me, millions of dollars every year.
    Now to Orin Hatch. Mr. Hatch is a career politician. With a very Long career. He didn’t keep his seat all these years, without testing the political wind, and switching his stance accordingly.
    Wait a minute though! That sounds like he’s trying to represent the will of the people!
    Good article, Ed!

  • DRT September 19, 2017 at 9:37 am

    “Meanwhile, our nails, prisons and court systems”
    Oh for heaven’s sake, that should read jails, not nails. Sometimes I hate this tablet.

    • ladybugavenger September 20, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      Sometimes those autocorrect typos are hilarious ? I laughed at that one!

  • DRT September 19, 2017 at 9:38 am

    “nails, prisons and court systems”
    Oh for heaven’s sake, that should read jails, not nails. Sometimes I hate this tablet.

  • bikeandfish September 19, 2017 at 9:54 am

    I wish Ed would have left the partisan jabs out of an otherwise thoughtful piece. Why make the “sensibility and compassion” remark as if they aren’t possible and common in conservative thinking? Democrats never have had a monopoly on those traits.

    Otherwise, I think applauding Hatch for forwarding a pragmatic bill is the right decision. We need to help people suffering from medical afflictions and reduce dependency on opoid based pain killers.

  • Ed Kociela September 19, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    There actually was no jab at the Republican Party. Pointing out that Hatch does not fall into Alt-Right or Tea Party standards is simple fact and not a political jab. The “good and loyal Republican” reference is, well, a fact of partisanship, not a jab. Citing conservative poll numbers is a fact, not a jab. Jabs, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder. Besides, some of my best friends are Republicans. Even those who can throw a seriously good and powerful jab like Ali.

  • bikeandfish September 19, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    My criticism explicitly included the “sensibility and compassion” reference you made in the entire sentence below:

    “But, what I have learned about him is that behind the political facade he exhibits as the good and loyal Republican, there is also a certain sensibility and compassion that lurks beneath the political bravado”

    You explicitly call the “good and loyal Republican” behavior a facade and bravado while countering those elements with choices that exhibit “sensibility and compassion”. Its clear from sentence structure that you don’t consider the latter to be consistent with “good and loyal” Republicans. How is that not a jab based in partisanship?

    I often agree with many of the ideas you share but you regularly couch them in partisan terms. There is often an antagonism, in this case more subtle than normal, that is known to leave readers with conservative values defensive and unlikely to be persuaded by your opinion pieces. If the goal is to persuade people to rethink their position (condemning Hatch as a RINO, considering the benefits of medical marijuana, etc) then why not make appeals to shared valued without the classic partisan ammunition?

    If the goal isn’t to persuade those outside our particular bubbles then what is the point? We have seen what decades of preaching to the choir leads to and it’s not pretty.

    • Ed Kociela September 19, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      As the person who wrote those words, I can assure you that the purpose was not antagonism, but a comparison. I fear you are picking nits. It is also imperative to understand that an opinion piece will always contain partisan references. We are political in everything we do these days. That said, my intent is not to rile or inflame, but to start the conversation, to hopefully create a dialog. A descriptive line about somebody dropping the pubic persona to reveal their inner workings, as I did, is neither overt nor covert partisanship, simply an analysis through my eyes, thus, opinion. The purpose is not to, at the end of the day, chalk up how many comments are pro or con, but to see if anybody is willing to intelligently discuss and debate an issue without resorting to name-calling or third-grade playground bully tactics, which I have seen you so graciously point out in comments. But, the bottom line is in the interpretation, which can vary wildly depending on which door you enter from.

      • bikeandfish September 19, 2017 at 4:05 pm

        I can understand your perspective and to be honest I struggle with finding better ways to discuss these topics. I am highly imperfect as many interactions here highlight. And at the end of the day I can recognize you have experience and justification for your approach even if I have constructive criticism.

        My fear is that those of us in the political minority in the region, either independent or democrat, aren’t learning from the lessons of the past elections fast enough. We have seen both socially/politically and through scientific research that conservatives and progressives think and interact in disparate ways. Like you I place alot of value in debating ideas and even more so on emperical, scientific fact. That is not generically the case for those who lean right. I actually think you did a good job at presenting an appeal to shared values here without diving into too much heady fact/detail (one of my weaknesses). And, without giving any credence to the vitriol and hateful comments of trolls on this site, we often see that solid message deflected by any hint of an assault on core identity and/or values. I don’t think bringing attention to that is nit-picking but a critical part of how we facilitate change in an overwhelmingly conservative region.

        At the end of the day the podium is yours and the content reflects your opinion. We can disagree on this level of detail and still likely share many goals and values, like challenging the moniker Dixie or supporting medical marijuana. I just think there is alot of evidence that if we don’t cater our (myself included) words differently and with extreme caution than we actually galvanize resistance to those shared political goals, even if the intent of our words is different than public interpretation.

        Best of luck. It takes a certain courage to voice your ideas in this region. I respect that.

        • comments September 20, 2017 at 12:23 am

          LOL. I still consider myself a liberal and vote dem. What I’m not a fan of are homosexual agendas, illegal mexicans, and multi-cult agendas. Fricken despise the R-party. Who are all these mean trolls you refer to, bikefish?

  • Utahguns September 19, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    “Come on people now
    Smile on your brother
    Everybody get together
    Try to love one another right now”

    Quoting Jesse Colin Young of the Youngbloods.

  • Who September 19, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    Let me get this straight. You don’t see the offensive nature of the following (Totally unnecessary) sentence?

    But, what I have learned about him is that behind the political facade he exhibits as the good and loyal Republican, there is also a certain sensibility and compassion that lurks beneath the political bravado.

    Then you say:
    to see if anybody is willing to intelligently discuss and debate an issue without resorting to name-calling or third-grade playground bully tactics.

    Totally contradictory.

  • commonsense September 20, 2017 at 6:45 am

    Ed, I doubt Orin Hatch would even know who you are so don’t overplay the close association you have with the senator. Orin is advocating for Huntsman who is one of his benefactors.

    Weed has no magical medical properties. None. It will cure no diseases. What it does is make people feel groovy when things are not going well in their life. It will be and has been a means of mitigating pain. When your life in a mess for whatever reason, weed will make you forget who you really are. In medicine this can be a good thing for cancer patients. In some childhood epilepsy an ingredient of marijuana may hold promise for lessening seizures.

    As for a “natural herb” so are many plants which are poisonous. I see marijuana as another addictive substance which alters judgement and performance. Smoking it is particularly abhorrent because lungs are pretty important.

    So, if you want to use it Ed, please don’t drive and endanger my life. Just sit home and feel groovy about your very confused politics.

  • utahdiablo September 20, 2017 at 9:59 am

    He is only pandering to the crowd to try to be re elected..

    • bikeandfish September 20, 2017 at 11:59 am

      Even if its just “pandering”, which is at best speculation, wouldn’t that mean that a majority of his base supports legalizing medical marijuana? If so, wouldn’t the measure then actually reflect the values and needs of his constituents? That to me sounds like the definition of a good Senator.

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