- Rachelle Fernandez
When it comes to health care, DJ Schanz (pictured above, center) believes in the right to choose. Although he's not a cannabis user himself, that doesn't stop this returned LDS missionary, graduate student and, now, campaign director of the Utah Patients Coalition, to fight for legalization of medical marijuana in Utah. With the legislative session starting soon, Schanz remains hopeful that the fate of medical cannabis will make it onto the ballot.
What would you tell those who say, "Cannabis is a gateway drug?"
We look at it more as a gateway out of the more-harmful, more-addictive fatal drugs, like prescription painkillers and opiates. When you have patients with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, cancer or chronic pain, you have this lineup of folks in some of the most stressful and dire situations you can imagine. If you can look at those people and ask the question, 'Are these people criminals?' and answer, 'Yes,' then you must have ice water running through your veins.
What has been the hardest case you've seen with UPC?
There was a child with epilepsy, really bad. The family had to move to Colorado and leave their support system, and everything that was here in Utah. Certain [cannabis] strains took his seizures down from 30 a day to almost none. Families like that—this is what we are working for. We have thousands of medical refugees across the state that've had to move when they are literally in the most vulnerable positions of their lives.
Can you explain what a medical refugee is?
In this case, a medical refugee is somebody that has to pack up all their belongs in an extremely vulnerable position in their life—where they have cancer or epilepsy—and move to a neighboring state where medical cannabis is legal. There are thousands and thousands of cases like this where people have had to do that. It's heart wrenching.
What do you hope to see happen with cannabis legislation this year?
We are going to keep an eye on [legislators], but we are very close to getting this on the ballot. We have about three-quarters of the signatures necessary. So the New Year brings both great amount of skepticism, with the Legislature coming into session, and a great amount of enthusiasm as we're rounding the turn on completion for the ballot initiative.