Last year I had the opportunity to witness the rise and fall of S.B. 259, Utah's whole plant medical cannabis bill. As I looked down from the Senate gallery over the 29 senators who had just voted to keep the medicine I need illegal - most of them with far less formal education than myself - I had to wonder, why is this alright? Why does society accept a room full of financially incentivized politicians making decisions about what I put in my body?
Founding Father of the United States Thomas Jefferson said, "If people let government decide which foods they eat and medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny."
I will call it - prohibition of medical cannabis is nothing short of tyranny. Propaganda, profits and politicians have created a scenario in which Americans are, quite literally, suffering and dying in the name of a failed ideology, the "Cult of Pharmacology."
The rallying cry of the anti-cannabis politicians and the special interests they represent is, simply, there is just not enough research. As a human lab rat, I am mortified, insulted and angered to keep hearing this fallacy repeated over and over.
They say if medical cannabis were to be legalized there may be "unintended consequences" and these mysteries are dangerous enough to justify all of the ills of the War on Drugs, the war on people like me. Saying there is not enough research not only doesn't acknowledge reality, it serves to perpetuate failed ideologies.
First, there is plenty of research about medical cannabis in existence today. I would go out on a limb and say there is more research about medical cannabis in existence than the bulk of legal drugs. It has been around since the dawn of mankind and humans have used it for everything from food, fiber, fuel and medicine until about the last century. No other pharmaceutical drug in existence has that breadth of human experience to take from.
I am a human lab rat for conventional drugs, not cannabis
And this is why I call myself a human lab rat. It's not because I use cannabis (quite heavily and frequently), but because of the drugs I have put into my body that are truly unknown to humans. I have had a diagnosis of Crohn's Disease for the last 12 years; drugs and their effects on the human body are my life and will always be a major component of it.
There is not enough research for me and there will never be enough. I won't put any drug into my body until I have thoroughly researched it and am aware of all the positive and negative consequences of my use. When I was first diagnosed, I was prescribed a handful of drugs that were invented and tested within mine and my parents' lifetimes. Unlike cannabis, these drugs don't enjoy the benefit of time and human experience to fully understand the effects.
I started my first biologic drug, Remicade, in 2005. I was and have been reassured many times this drug is safe, despite the FDA's black box warnings and the low incidences of paralysis and cancer some patients get as an "unintended consequence" of their use of this drug. At the time I was 18 and my doctor - a well-known gastroenterologist and leading researcher - once made a joke about me getting pregnant because she needed women in the 18-24 year range on Remicade for her study.
This drug was only approved for use on humans in 1999, well within my lifetime. I started taking it in 2005, just six years later. What are the unintended consequences of Remicade? If Remicade has long term negative side effects, if it causes birth defects in my offspring, if it kills me young - well those things are things the researchers and drug companies will learn from me and people like me because I am a human lab rat.
The patients these politicians seek to criminalize are, every day, being used to test modern medicines. We are all already lab rats and doctors and patients agree this is okay because the benefits of these drugs outweigh the risks as assessed by the doctor and their patient, not the government.
Never once did politicians debate the safety of Remicade. I never had the condescending experience of having to fight arrogant politicians for my right to treat my disease as my doctors and I see fit.
All pharmaceutical drugs are brand new in the scope of human experience and history, but few would deny their obvious benefits and right to exist. I should mention, because it is oh-so relevant to this discussion, Remicade is the second most profitable drug in the world, after its sister-drug Humira.
The use of cannabis is logical and well-researched
It seems as if politicians want there to "not be enough research," to hope for the unintended consequences. It's easy to be compassionate to a suffering child. It's harder to be compassionate to a suffering adult whose motives can be questioned. The arguments for medical cannabis are so logical and backed by so much research that they force a re-evaluation of the entirety of our current drug ideologies and the policies that support it.
Accepting medical cannabis obviously opens the door to more. It forces one to question the legality of some drugs and criminalization of others. It forces one to look at their notions of what drugs, vitamins, food and medicine are and realize the ideology with which we regulate substances is entirely wrong, must be stopped and changed for the bettering of all people in our "free" society.
There is an ideologically driven fear of the culture of the people who have historically been associated with the marijuana legalization movement - anti-establishment hippies, liberals, pleasure seeking youths, Black and Brown people and gays.
But should this cultural tension really matter or be allowed to be the thing that stands in the way of freedom for everyone? That is, without question, tyranny.
This year, the bill has new legs as S.B. 73 and was just approved 17-12 by the Utah Senate. It moved onto the House of Representatives now, where it will undoubtedly be held to the same ridiculous levels of scrutiny it was in the Senate for the last two years.
They will say there is not enough research. They will say they are trying to protect children. They either haven't done their research or they are liars. In the end the bill may or may not pass, but a federal solution in line with actual science, research and human experience will still be sorely needed.
Angela Bacca is a Portland, Oregon-based writer, journalist, photographer and medical cannabis patient. She has been published in a wide variety of print and digital publications. Her last piece for Civilized, Legalization Is About Freedom And Good Health, Not Greed, was published Dec. 21, 2015.