Former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff: Cannabis Reform in Utah

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What does a Republican, Mormon, family man and father of 5, a former Attorney General, once tempted to use medicinal cannabis look like?

Well, here in the  great State of Utah, he would look Mark Shurtleff.

Mr. Shurtleff was Utah born and bred, educated at Brigham Young University (BYU) and served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Peru.

He is the only Attorney General in Utah to be elected for three consecutive terms.

Having endured chemotherapy for his own cancer, Mark told local news outlets in July, 2011 that he “isn’t opposed to exploring the legalization of medicinal marijuana”.

“I’m open to it now because I’ve experienced it, and I’ve seen others suffer,” he said on KSL News Radio’s “Doug Wright Show.”

Shurtleff said he would consider a law legalizing medicinal marijuana provided it came with proper restrictions like other controlled substances.

Mark Shurtleff

Mark Shurtleff

I interviewed Mark Shurtleff on August 20, 2014 in his new Sugarhouse office.  I found him hospitable and honest and an informative interviewee.

Mr. Shurtleff first revealed he was tempted to use cannabis while being treated for colon cancer and subsequent chemotherapy; however he never did try it. Utah does not have a legal medical marijuana program.

He discussed the known side-effects of his treatment and admitted to knowing some of the medicinal benefits of cannabis, to treat nausea, which did tempt him. Instead of an all natural, herbal medicine, he was taking prescription drugs such as Oxymorphone and liquid opium every 2 hours to treat his pain and agreed that these powerful pain prescriptions can be addictive, dangerous, even deadly.

Shurtleff also acknowledged that legally allowing a patient to choose their own route of treatment, especially if it is one they can grow their own, would be his preference.

He spoke of the ability of Utah lawmakers to legalize and tax medical marijuana, thereby making personal use an option for Utah patients.

Local current and former Utah lawmakers who support the legalization effort (or who has been accepting of the idea and asked for additional information) include Rebecca Chavez-Houck, Christine Watkins, Dan Oaks and Lynn Hemingway.

Mr. Shurtleff also discussed how a federal mandate to lead to legalization could be created in addition to the requirements of the 10th Amendment. He agreed that this can be achieved if “done right, if regulated and not abused”.

He advised the state of Utah to “take lessons from other states, evaluate what has been sustainable and beneficial for their patients and economy”.

Mr. Shurtleff has a daughter who carries a psychiatric diagnosis.  When informed about this writer’s personal experience of treating her Bipolar Disorder with cannabis, he sat toward the edge of his chair and listened carefully.

He was impressed with the fact that cannabis has been proven to be effective in treating both the manic episodes and the extreme depression that make up Bipolar Disorder.  He agreed that treating his daughter with the cannabis would make much more sense than having her take multiple prescriptions.

We spoke of the economic benefits of not having local law enforcement focus on cannabis as well as the huge cost of prosecuting and incarcerating non-violent cannabis users.

Shurtleff also discussed how Utah should model their laws after states who have successfully implemented medicinal cannabis laws, as well as a “Home Grow” option for Utah patients.

The many benefits of industrial hemp were also discussed, including how Utah farmers could start legalling growing and benefiting from it, from the impact on the jobs and income to the increased quality of life.

We also discussed the legalization of recreational cannabis in Utah, including the revenue from state taxes which could be applied to a wide variety of social needs, from providing affordable medical and psychological treatment of needy children to stocking the Food Bank to improving the state’s public transportation system.

The net profits for the state of Utah for alcohol sales in 2012 was $70,787,797.00, per DABC Representative, Benn Buys, whereas the profit for medicinal cannabis sales for Colorado in 2012 was $219,320,929. Mr. Shurtleff questioned what type of return could be expected in Utah if cannabis were legalized and listened to both arguments for medicinal only versus recreational cannabis.

Another option he approves of is the “DORA – Drug Offender Reform Act” in which prisoners are diverted. He supports a “fiscally conservative drug program” in which the state could model from other, successful states and learn from their obstacles and possibility of abuse in the system.