WASHINGTON TERRACE — The divide between law enforcement and medical cannabis proponents appeared to be deep and wide Wednesday night during a town hall meeting held at Bonneville High School.
About 60 people attended the event hosted by the Bonneville Communities That Care Coalition, and at least nine were representatives from TRUCE Utah. TRUCE, which stands for “Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education,” is a group of patients and caregivers advocating for safe legal access to medical cannabis.
Several uniformed police officers stood around the auditorium during the hourlong presentation by Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson and Riverdale Police Lt. Casey Warren. Thompson trotted through more than two dozen slides of data aimed at galvanizing parents against marijuana and scaring teenagers straight — and possibly persuading people to vote against a medical cannabis initiative that could land on the ballot next November. The Utah Patients Coalition is currently gathering signatures to make that happen.
Some of the risks of early marijuana use Thompson warned of included doubling the chances of crashing your car; more likely to experience male erectile dysfunction; suppressing the body’s immune system; increasing the risks of cancer, psychosis, gum disease, depression and acute memory loss; and reducing brain function. He also said it has no medical benefit.
“We’re in the high school, and youth use is so important to us,” Thompson told the audience, sharing an anecdote about one of his neighbors. “She visited with me recently in tears. She’d worked with a 15-year-old who tested just on the borderline of genius, just a great kid. He decided to hang out with the wrong kids and started going down the wrong path ... down that marijuana road. Within a year, they couldn’t get this kid to hardly test above a 70 IQ. It was just sad.”
Thompson, touting “verifiable facts,” touched on impacts in Colorado and Washington after those states legalized both medical and recreational marijuana, citing data from recent reports compiled by the Rocky Mountain and Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, whose missions are to coordinate federal, state and local law enforcement efforts in combating illegal distribution and sales of drugs.
One slide listed the following bullet points about Washington’s experience:
• “1 percent of the total energy used in Washington is attributed to marijuana growing, (legal & illegal), equates to the energy to operate 2 million homes, cost $6 billion, and equals emissions of CO2 by 3 million homes into our environment.”
• “373,778 illegal plants found on public & private land from 2012-2016.”
• “60 percent of illegal plants grown in 2016 were on state land. Toxic treatments, fertilizers, and waste product has severely damaged public terrain.”
• “58604 illegal marijuana plants eradicated in 2016 consumed an estimated 43.2 million gallons of water (120-day cycle).”
• “The Mount Shasta area of California — in 1 square mile over 80 illegal grows. Quote — Siskiyou County Dep. Gilley “fire up google earth and you can count grow after grow dotting the high desert landscape like an outbreak of measles.”
• “The cultivation of marijuana is extremely detrimental to our environment.”
Another slide warned of stretched government budgets due to greater public safety and social service costs from marijuana impacts. And one slide posed the following questions:
Lt. Warren talked about his brother, who died from a heroin overdose, and noted that the drug use started with marijuana.
“He was the smartest one, best looking, best everything, but he made a choice and couldn’t stop. This addiction led to harder drugs and ultimately he overdosed on heroin. ... The hardest thing I had to do was tell my mom and dad their son was gone,” Warren said, urging those present to take a stand and start educating their community.
After the presentation concluded, people were invited to ask questions one-on-one. TRUCE members said they found the mishmash of information slanted and concerning.
“I respect the hard work that the officers have done, and really appreciate the work that they’re doing. But I was troubled by the presentation of things as facts that may not be facts,” Jim Hutchins, a Weber State University neuroscience professor said. “As a scientist, I like to look at all sides of an issue, but I didn’t feel there was a balance — it was all tilted toward one viewpoint. All we heard about were the risks and not the potential benefits.”
Hutchins, who supports legalizing medical cannabis, acknowledged that marijuana is a mix of good and bad and should not find its way into the hands of teenagers.
“It’s true that 9 percent of users become addicted to marijuana, and that number is closer to 16 percent for those who start early in life — which is a good reason not to start early. That’s reality — that’s what’s out there.”
But the notion that marijuana use lowers IQ, he said, is false: “I understand that’s someone’s reality and the way they see the world. ... It’s just not my reality as a neuroscientist.”
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TRUCE member Doug Rice, who serves as vice president of the Epilepsy Association of Utah, attended the presentation with his wife and his daughter — the latter of whom has experienced a reduction in severity and frequency of epileptic seizures using CBD oil.
A retired paramedic, Rice said the presentation further convinced him of the need to educate people about medical cannabis.
He hasn’t always supported the cause, though.
“If you had told me 10 years ago I’d be a cannabis advocate, I would have told you you were nuts,” Rice said. But finding relief for his daughter changed his mind, and some have asked him why he doesn’t move to a state where it’s legal.
“I don’t think we should be bullied out of the state because we found a way to treat our daughter with something that’s not legal here,” Rice said. “We were told to leave or change the law — and that’s what we’re doing.”