SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah)- Right now, a petition is moving across the state of Utah to put a Medical Cannabis initiative on the ballot during the 2018 election. It's a divisive topic but both sides are passionate about the same thing: doing what's right for patients. We’re taking you inside the passionate debate over medical cannabis.
In many ways, Holden Cromar is just like any other 10 year-old boy. He loves trampoline time with his sister, playing games, and going to school. But a couple of things set him apart. Like his bright blue helmet and his constant companion, Tobey the service dog.
Holden needs both of these protective tools every day, because Holden has epilepsy. The day we spent with Holden, he didn't have a single seizure. It was a stark contrast from the Holden we saw in a video just one year earlier. At that point, Holden was having 40 to 100 seizures every day.
“It was hard. It was horrible," said Holden’s mom, Mandi Cromar.
So how did Holden go from that; to the rambunctious little man we met? His parents say Medical Cannabis.
"It was like a literal fog being lifted from his mind," said his dad, David Cromar.
But that decision was difficult for the Cromars.
"Growing up in Davis County, this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs, any questions," Mandi said, referencing the old anti-drug campaign from the 80’s.
So when David brought up the idea, Mandi said, “I freaked a little. But, as we talked about it, studied it, prayed about it, it was almost like an immediate this is what we have to do for our son."
The couple packed up their family and moved to Colorado to see if Cannabis would help Holden’s symptoms. They said the change was obvious. The seizures decreased significantly and Holden began learning and retaining memories again.
"He was growing and he was back to his naughty little self that I really missed through all that," Mandi said.
But the family desperately wanted to come home to Utah. They did some research and learned the Cannabidiol supplement primarily used by Holden had been made legal for epilepsy patients in Utah.
"We’re always going to fight for our son. But knowing what we know and learning what we learned in Colorado, we're also here to fight for everybody who deserves this access," David said.
So when they heard about the ballot initiative spreading across Utah they got involved
"These aren't drug addicts. These are every day citizens of Utah that have found relief from a medicine that works for them and that's why we're working for this," said DJ Schanz, the Director of the Utah Patients Coalition. His group created the petition to get Medical Cannabis on the 2018 ballot.
“So we have to get close to 113,000 wet signatures. So they can't be digital, they have to be in person, wet signatures," Schanz said.
That's 10% of the vote total from the 2016 presidential election from all across the state. Right now there are roughly *** signatures on that petition.
"The response has been overwhelmingly supportive," Schanz said.
The most recent Utah policy.com poll showed 74% of Utahns support making Medical Cannabis legal. But not everyone agrees with Schanz or his ballot initiative.
"Who’s going to read all that and know exactly what's in there," asked Gayle Ruzicka, President of the Utah Eagle Forum.
Ruzicka fears people signing this petition aren't fully informed about the decision they are making. She also said Medical Cannabis just hasn't been studied well enough.
"If something is going to be medical, let's do it the right way," Ruzicka said.
And researchers at the University of Utah agree with her.
"Nobody knows what's in them and that's the concern, what's the consumer really consuming," asked Karen Wilcox, Chair at the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Utah.
Wilcox and her team have been studying the effects of Cannabidiol, or CBD, on epilepsy patients. They're only studying a specific product that comes directly from the National Institute of Drug Abuse or NIDA.
"It's carefully analyzed it's known what's in that product the species and strains of marijuana from which they extract that Cannabidiol is well documented and understood," Wilcox explained.
Wilcox said the problem with the cannabis sold in other states right now, is they're all different. It's a plant, not a truly controlled medicine.
"What can certainly be done is more experiments more science can be done," she told us.
Doctor Karen Buchi, the General Pediatrics Division Chief at the University of Utah also agrees.
Buchi said, "We have no information at all really about the whole plant and how you would even prescribe it or use it in children."
Though the research is in its infancy, she followed that up by saying, "there's growing evidence that elements of the marijuana plant can and probably do have positive beneficial effects for humans or different conditions in humans."
These doctors say a big problem is the bureaucratic red tape surrounding cannabis.
"The Schedule 1 Designation for THC and Cannabidiol has made it very difficult for scientists to do their jobs," Wilcox said.
A Schedule 1 Drug, defined by the government, is a drug that's highly abusive with no medical use. That makes it hard for doctors to study, which means making it a true medicine may take some time. It's time the Cromars say, families dealing with pain don't have.
"I know there are hundreds of families here in this state that are doing this secretively because they fear persecution. And I promise you, we have enough stress in our life than to have to worry about persecution when we're trying to heal our child," said David Cromar.
The Cromars say there are parts of the plant Holden has not been able to take since they returned to Utah. They've been able to deal, but they'd rather see their son thrive.
"It will give Holden the life he deserves, and he deserves a great life. And if it doesn't pass, we'll move somewhere where it will," Mandi Cromar explained.
We want you to be educated on this topic before you make a decision, so make sure to watch the full interview with Karen Wilcox and Dr. Karen Buchi posted on this story.
You can also read the entire 27 page Cannabis Act here.
The petition has to be completed by January, so if you'd like to sign it you can find out more information here.
See the full interview with DJ Shanz, from Utah Patient Coalition here:
See the full interview with Dr. Karen Wilcox from the University of Utah here:
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