Weber Co. Sheriff Terry Thompson has it all wrong on medical cannabis

Thursday , May 18, 2017 - 5:00 AM8 comments

DOUG RICE, special to the Standard-Examiner

I read with interest the article on how law enforcement feels the world will end when a cannabis dispensary opens in Wendover. I don’t advocate recreational use of cannabis by adults or children. Yet we see the use of medical cannabis being jeopardized by Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson.

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Thompson has muddied the waters by combining medical use of cannabis with recreational use. The sheriff has decided there is no such thing as medical use of cannabis. With little to no medical experience and using questionable information, Thompson wrote the “Marijuana Position Statement” for the Utah Sheriffs’ Association.

It would appear Thompson has access to information no one else has: statistics on deaths from cannabis overdoses.

As a Utah paramedic with 28 years of experience in pre-hospital emergency medicine, I can tell you how many cannabis overdose deaths I have seen: Zero. None. Nada. How can that be? Because there never have been any. While cannabis is indeed a medicine, and can be abused like any medicine, cannabis by itself cannot kill you.

Thompson points to Colorado as an example of what goes wrong when a state legalizes marijuana. But contrary to what Thompson wrote, Denver's increased crime is not related to cannabis. In fact, the Denver Police released a report in February 2016 showing a 3.5 percent increase in crime. In an article in the Denver Post, Denver PD spokesman Sonny Jackson was quoted, “Crime is up, but I don’t know if you can relate it to marijuana.”

I also take issue with the Sheriffs’ Association using false information, fear-mongering, and wailing about the increased use of cannabis by children in Colorado following legalization. According to a December 2016 article in The Washington Post, teen recreational use of cannabis dropped following legalization in Colorado (”After legalization, teen marijuana use drops sharply in Colorado,” Dec. 21, 2016).

The sheriffs’ position paper quotes spokespeople from drug treatment centers, which make a profit from patients. With the large numbers of patients no longer being treated for cannabis addiction, the loss of revenue has these facilities scrambling for reasons to keep cannabis illegal and continue a steady stream of patients. Follow the money.

Thompson went on to write that there was “little legitimate scientific research” about cannabis. Google is indeed a wonderful search engine, and it took me less than 15 seconds to find a link to 60 peer-reviewed studies on medical cannabis.

Not all of them are pro-cannabis. But most are. So researchers do see medical value. In fact, the Utah Legislature has funded studies at the University of Utah on the medical value of cannabis. Sixty studies should keep Thompson reading a while.

Thompson did get one thing right, sort of — cannabis is addictive, but at roughly the same level as caffeine. Adverse effects from cannabis addiction are more psychological than physical, with none of the major symptoms of hard drugs. Cannabis withdrawal comes with minor symptoms such as headache, irritability, insomnia and shaking. These are the same symptoms a person would experience if they were to give up coffee or their 48-ounce diet cola they’ve consumed every morning for years.

Sheriff Thompson quoted the American Medical Association as being against the use of cannabis, and yet the AMA web site includes a study showing the positive results of cannabis for pain.

For me, the really funny part of the statement was Thompson’s use of a quote regarding the lack of an FDA approval for cannabis. This is the same FDA that has recalled hundreds of medications due to “adverse effects” (such as death). FDA approval does not guarantee safety. Consider this: every FDA drug recall began as an FDA drug approval.

Colorado legalized medical cannabis in 2000, and you’re only now performing your Chicken Little act. Where have you been for all these years?

I have a question, Sheriff Thompson: Have you ever seen cannabis stop a seizure? With your extensive medical background, did you know that epilepsy can be a deadly disease? Did you know one out of every 26 people will develop epilepsy? My daughter has seen a reduced number of epileptic seizures from the use of CBD oil, and we hold a Utah Hemp Registry card. Yet you’re trying to say there is no medical use for cannabis.

I’ll make you a deal, sheriff — you stick to law enforcement, and I’ll stick to medical care. I think we have it handled without your vast medical expertise.

Doug Rice is vice president of the Epilepsy Association of Utah.

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