Christine Stenquist is an advocate and educator for medical cannabis who, in conjunction with her organization TRUCE (Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education), worked to get Utah's Proposition 2 on the November ballot. In 1996, at the age of 24, she began experiencing symptoms from a brain tumor, and subsequently spent more than 15 years living with chronic pain—including trigeminal neuralgia—before beginning use of medical cannabis for pain management. Stenquist will be among the speakers at the first Utah Cann Medical Cannabis Conference (sponsored by City Weekly), Oct. 19-20 at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy.
CW: Can you describe what your life was like between your diagnosis and the time you began using medical cannabis?
I led a bedridden, housebound life. I raised my children from a couch or a bed. So I wasn’t attending school activities, or birthday parties, or recitals. I couldn’t handle being out in the world, with all the stimuli, sounds and movements and people, because it would trigger my pain attacks. I couldn’t even handle visitors coming in. My outings were doctor visits. I wasn’t functioning; I was existing.
In your patient story on the TRUCE website, you describe how immediate and profound the change was once you began using medical cannabis.
It was so dramatic that I was taken aback. I used to say to my husband, “Is this really happening? Or am I just delusional?” Because it was so dramatic. I’d been on so many pharmaceuticals, and nothing worked as dramatically, and sustainably.
How did you then become an advocate?
My neighbors started seeing me. They knew me as the sick one in the neighborhood. People were asking me what I was doing. And I couldn’t lie. I started boldly telling those individuals. So the educating started there. ... I made my way to Capitol Hill. The process was so brand new to me, and I felt empowered as a citizen. One person can
You grew up with a father who was a narcotics officer. Was it difficult psychologically for you to make the shift towards thinking of something associated with marijuana as being acceptable?
My father will claim he’s an independent, but he's more Republican-leaning and a Fox News watcher. My mom was a hippie, who was smoking marijuana while he was out trying to stop it. I disowned her for years, because she wouldn’t stop using marijuana. ... I was ashamed and I shunned my mother. And she uses it to treat her bipolar disorder. I didn’t know or understand what cannabis did for her when I made that judgment 10 years ago. It wasn’t based in love, compassion and intelligence in terms of what this plant was doing for her. So I understand having to re-learn the information, because we have been programmed that this was a bad thing, people who used it were low-lifes in our society. We’ve made it sinister. We’ve been lied to, and the hardest thing to do was turn that ship around.
Have you or TRUCE been part of the legislative negotiation on medical cannabis that has been going on parallel to the run-up to the Proposition 2 vote?
I haven’t seen Speaker Hughes in 2-1/2 years. I feel like I need to emphasize that. There was an invite initially extended to me to talk about the patients’ perspective. When I learned who was going to be in the meeting, I wanted to bring in [former state senator] Steve Urquhart. He was the grandfather of medical cannabis here in Utah, introduced the first CBD bill back in 2014. When I made that request, [Hughes] withdrew the invitation to the meeting. The response, in patting me on the head and saying “you’re obviously upset, we’re withdrawing the invitation,” was inappropriate. I’m upset that we’ve been ignored, and that we have the opposition in back rooms negotiating without patient representation. I’m a petitioner of the ballot initiative; I felt if they were trying to negotiate, I should be involved. Patients have been dismissed, as though their voices aren’t important.