Monday , December 07, 2015 - 5:15 AM
KAYSVILLE — Christine Stenquist’s 16-year struggle with chronic pain, nausea and muscle spasms left her largely incapacitated until she decided to go rogue and give marijuana a try.
As the daughter of a retired undercover narcotics cop, that decision did not come easily for Stenquist, a Kaysville mother of four.
“I understood drugs from a very different Rush Limbaugh-loving Republican perspective,” Stenquist said. “My dad went out in the world to catch the bad guys who use drugs.”
But when she approached him in desperation about trying marijuana, he didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“He said ‘Chrissy, you’ve been at this for a decade and a half. If it works, it works. Try it,’” Stenquist said.
Of course, in Utah that meant breaking the law.
Getting her life back
Seeing Stenquist today, vibrant with energy and passion, there is little indication of the bedridden woman she had become.
On Nov. 21, 1996, then 24-year-old Stenquist underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. The three-hour surgery stretched into 10, and when she began hemorrhaging and slipped into a coma, doctors pulled out, leaving 60 percent of the mass intact.
At that time, Stenquist was a single mom working as a phlebotomist at Lakeview Hospital in Bountiful. After four days, she emerged from the coma with left-side paralysis.
“So I had to learn how to walk and talk again and get back into life, but it was a very slow and painful process,” Stenquist said.
Her pharmaceutical regimen consisted of hard-hitting opioids, muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants and anticonvulsants.
“I was 100 pounds heavier,” Stenquist said. “Emergency room visits were constant, two or three times a month. I remember getting shots and moaning in pain . . . and my husband getting the physician who said we can’t give her more, it will stop her heart.”
Her two oldest children, now 22 and 24, only knew a mother who raised them from her bed or the couch.
“My other two kids (ages 8 and 15) have experienced a mom who has traveled the state, who’s gone places and done things,” Stenquist said of the dramatic rebound her life has taken since January 2013, when she procured her first bag of marijuana.
She had tried Marinol, the FDA-approved synthetic version of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the ingredient in marijuana that gets people high.
“It was too much for me,” Stenquist said of the hallucinations, nausea and severe lethargia she experienced while taking Marinol. But within two weeks of vaporizing marijuana, Stenquist said she emerged from her bedroom and began gaining strength.
“Cannabidiol (CBD) regulates the high and mellows, the effect of THC,” Stenquist said. “That’s why a whole plant approach is ideal.”
Advocating for others
Since that first tentative marijuana try in early 2013, Stenquist refined her own usage and saw steady improvement as she figured out which plant strains helped her the most. Stenquist’s renewed activity soon led to lobby on behalf of other patients in need of relief.
Until recently, she served as director of the nonprofit Utah Drug Policy Project, resigning Friday in order to focus on teaching patients about the legislative process and how to better advocate for themselves.
Now fully mobile and pharmaceutical-free, Stenquist said that she vaporizes marijuana three to four times a day to control nausea, migraines and muscle spasms.
During the 2015 Legislative session, Stenquist worked closely with Saratoga Springs Republican Sen. Mark Madsen on his medical marijuana bill, SB259, that failed in the Senate by one vote.
“If anything, we got the conversation started in this state. They’re talking about it on a real level and that’s something,” Stenquist said. “We want to provide an option for people who have hit a wall like me, and for those who want a more homeopathic, more natural approach.”
So far, two medical marijuana bills are being drafted for Utah’s 2016 legislative session that starts Jan. 25 — one sponsored by Madsen and the other by Rep. Bradley Daw, R-Orem, and Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City.
Madsen’s new bill is expected to improve upon his 2015 measure. According to Stenquist, the measure will cover several conditions, including chronic pain, epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and post traumatic stress disorder.
Connor Boyack, founder and president of Libertas Institute, said he’s been working closely with Madsen on legislation substantively similar to last year’s SB259 but more refined and with prior loopholes closed.
“Sen. Madsen has been meeting since early this year with a number of stakeholders.” Boyack said. That group includes patients, industry members and regulatory authorities who would be tasked with administering the new law. At this stage, it prohibits smoking but permits vaporizing, topicals and edibles. The measure would also limit the number of dispensaries statewide based on population, Boyack said.
While Madsen’s bill favors whole plant access, the Vickers-Daw measure focuses solely on cannabidiol oil, Stenquist said, and in her mind, that offers nothing more than a placebo.
“There are a lot of patients we’re losing in this state to opiate overdoses due to chronic pain,” Stenquist said. “If we don’t have a comprehensive bill that includes a full cannabinoid profile — CBD, THC and the other cannabinoids — we’re not doing anything to help patients.”
What about the feds?
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, voted against SB259 last session and said he’s likely to do the same in 2016.
“If there’s a responsible way to help people in pain, I support that. But we should not be asking our sworn law enforcement officers to choose between state and federal law,” Weiler said.
Since 1970, marijuana or cannabis has been classified by the federal government as a Schedule 1 drug — on par with heroin, ecstasy and LSD — making possession of it a serious crime.
But in 1996, California voters approved medical marijuana and since then several other states followed suit. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 23 states, the District of Columbia and Guam now permit comprehensive medical marijuana programs. Another 17 states have approved the use of low-THC, high-CBD products.
And in four states — Alaska, Oregon, Colorado and Washington — recreational marijuana is now legal, according to www.governing.com. The same is true in the District of Columbia.
The NCSL website reports that in 2009, the Obama administration sent a memo to federal prosecutors urging no action against medical marijuana distributors in states where such use is legal. In August 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice said it expects states that have legalized recreational marijuana to create strong enforcement policies, deferring its right to challenge their legalization laws “at this time.”
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, was among the 14 state senators who voted in favor of Madsen’s 2015 bill.
“Unless something changes drastically I’ll vote for it (again). I think we have the right to make our own decisions,” Jenkins said.
Weiler’s concerns about bucking up against federal law held little sway with Jenkins
“The federal issue does put cops in an odd situation, but there are 25 to 30 states where it’s legal and they turn a blind eye,” Jenkins said. “We’d be doing the same thing. That’s the way it is.”
The Drug Policy Project of Utah is sponsoring
“Medical Cannabis in Weber County: Politics vs. Patients”
WHEN: Thursday, Dec. 10, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Pleasant Valley Library
5568 S. Adams Ave., Washington Terrace
Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.
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