Rep. Brad Daw, a Republican legislator from Utah County, is sponsoring an alternative medical marijuana bill, in contrast to and competition against Sen. Mark Madsen’s more expansive proposal.

While Rep. Daw has stated his bill is a way to “proceed with caution,” in reality it is a death sentence for tens of thousands of Utahns.

The two bills share much in common, yet have one key difference. Madsen’s proposal would allow doctors to recommend whole plant cannabis to their patients — potentially containing THC (a psychotropic component), CBD (a non-psychotropic component) and other cannabinoids. Daw’s bill explicitly prohibits cannabis containing THC.

This cannabinoid gets a bad rap from moralist anti-drug crusaders, and yet its medicinal legitimacy is well established. A synthetic version of THC, known has Marinol, has long been used to treat cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. And there has been far more research about the medical efficacy of THC than CBD — yet Daw falsely claims otherwise.

It is true CBD appears to be helpful for some conditions, including providing seizure control for epilepsy. However, many other conditions would not be treated in any fashion by CBD-only cannabis: cancer, chronic pain, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, PTSD and many others. Only Madsen’s bill would allow these individuals to seek the treatment or relief they need.

But here’s the thing: despite the law currently prohibiting any form of cannabis — except for a very limited patient population with intractable epilepsy — many Utahns obtain and use it. These individuals are between a legal rock and a personal hard place: either they obey the law and physically suffer, or violate the law to obtain relief while risking losing their children, their job, their firearms and their freedom.

Hoping to take the path of least resistance, legislators lining up behind Daw’s proposal want to “do something,” but only take a small step. Put yourself in the shoes of an arthritic senior citizen, or a young mother with cancer. These and far too many others would not be afforded relief; they would be treated as criminals merely for seeking a legitimate remedy for their suffering. Legislators “playing it safe” would instead be subjecting such people to prison. This is neither compassionate nor conservative.

This legislation would also do nothing to address the horrific opiate overdose rate in Utah. Each month, on average, 21 Utahns die from prescription drug overdoses. If Madsen’s bill were to pass, data from other states suggests up to eight of these lives would be saved every month. In contrast, a CBD-only bill would save precisely zero lives; this component of cannabis does nothing to treat pain, a very real ailment for which opiates are currently handed out like candy by doctors throughout Utah.

And yet, in a twist of irony, Daw’s campaign website notes that “prescription drug abuse is the #1 cause of death in Utah” and that he is “working to inform everyone about the addictive and dangerous nature of prescription drugs.” But when presented with legislation aimed to address this atrocity in a substantive way, Daw decided to sponsor competing legislation that abandons these individuals and perpetuates the problem.

A CBD-only bill would also do nothing to address the high rate of soldier suicides; nationwide, an average of 22 veterans kill themselves each day. Each year, the Utah Legislature honors deceased veterans. Most of the 19 soldiers recognized this past February had ended their own lives. While many veterans suffering from PTSD are hoping for access to cannabis, they face a new threat in the form of CBD-only legislation that ignores their plight out of “proceed[ing] with caution.”

Tens of thousands of Utahns don’t have time for Utah legislators to move a few inches; a large step in the direction of doctor/patient freedom is needed to provide relief and medical remedy to those seeking this option. The public understands and agrees; three public polls conducted since February have found that more than two-thirds of likely Utah voters support the legalization of medical marijuana.

Utahns must read between the lines on this issue. There is no more time for “caution,” and no valid reason why young mothers and ailing grandparents should have to navigate a hostile, black market and risk being thrown in prison merely because they want to be healthy. Half of the states in our country have now legalized medical marijuana; does Daw think Utahns are less trustworthy and responsible than millions of Americans in other states?

Let’s give freedom a try, and restore government to its proper role: finding and punishing true criminals — not the sick and suffering among us, writhing in pain, desperate for relief.

Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute.

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