Years ago, I owned a half-interest in a 30-foot sailboat, docked at the Great Salt Lake Marina. Outings, particularly evening sails toward the Stansbury Mountains, included dazzling sunsets and ocean-like expanses of seemingly endless tranquility. Despite the lake's captivity in the GSL Desert, it was a convenient haven for Utah sailors. Then came the years of wondering if the following springs would bring enough mountain drainage to raise the lake level to an acceptable depth. Finally, boats with full keels, like ours, could no longer even get out of the harbor to enjoy the open water. Over the course of about 40 years, the lake went from its peak—actually washing over parts of I-80—to recent, grim announcements by climatologists saying normal lake levels will never return.
Now Utahns face a problem: What can be done with our state's vanishing salt sea? It's plentiful expanses of beaches are soured by the wall-to-wall mat of smelly brine-fly carcasses, and the stink is near-unbearable; tourists no longer look at the Great Salt Lake as a must-go destination, to bob and frolic in its super-buoyant waters; and, of course, the occasional misguided fisherman always gets skunked.
But wait. I just had a brainstorm, kind of like the Ford-has-a-better-idea commercials of yesteryear: Let's install a pirate-style plank on the Good-Ship-Utah Legislature and extend it out over the deepest part of the lake. Planks, as you remember from the Peter Pan days, were a staple of the old galleons, wherein wrongdoers—hands tied behind their backs—walked to the end for their final kerplunk into the sea. Well, folks, when it comes to wrongdoing, our Legislature seems to be full of elected representatives who refuse to honor the simple democratic principle of government by the people.
It wasn't that many years ago that American colonists, masquerading as Native Americans, dumped shitloads—substitute a "p" for the "t" if you wish—of British tea into their harbor. The "Boston Tea Party" was a decisive moment in history—when the population cried out that they'd had enough. They were no longer willing to pay taxes to the crown unless the British government allowed the colonies to be represented in Parliament. And we all know what happened next.
Sadly, a similar situation exists today between Utah's citizens and its Legislature. Oh, yes, we elected them and believed we had "representation," but the notion that these people actually represent the will of the people is, at best, only a delusion. Look what happened to the ballot initiatives from the last election. Utahns were decisive in their vote to (a) expand Medicaid and (b) ease the suffering of the sick by legalizing medical cannabis. Once the initiatives were passed, the Legislature went to work, largely dismantling the language of the law and gutting some of the most essential terms. Utah wasted months and millions of dollars fighting the Medicaid expansion, but was finally forced into submission.
After two years of waiting, the chronically ill are going to get some relief. Despite the intentional subversion by those pompous legislators—who hold the attitude of "Believe me; we know better than you do what you want"—the day of medical marijuana has finally arrived in Utah. But sick Utahns' new leases on life will be marred by a reprehensible legislative twist. Their suffering finally eased, they will face being fired from their jobs because of the lingering presence of THC in their random drug tests. And, as to their employability, private businesses will be allowed to exclude all medical marijuana users from job eligibility. It is unimaginable to me that any moral, caring, compassionate person could back such a flaw in the law, yet our legislators are the ones who put it there.
Somewhere along the way, Utah's lawmakers forgot the will of the people. Even worse, they seem to have become confused over the term "medical marijuana," somehow assigning a hint of "recreational use" to the mix. Now our (trusted) legislators are shoving something down our throats that we didn't vote for, and that's patently immoral. Instead of being a boon to the sick, the extra-initiative changes in the law are bound to make the lives of the sick much worse. Somewhere along the way, our lawmakers lost sight of what the law is really about—a safe alternative to opiate dependence and the risks of addiction for those who most need our compassion and help.
Most states that have approved medical marijuana have included specific language to prevent businesses from discriminating against those who have a legitimate medical need for it. But, consistent with it's arrogance, our own Legislature has made sure that any medical relief will be accompanied by a healthy dose of personal and economic pain. Employers can't fire employees for opiate use or for taking their blood pressure meds. Medical cannabis should be no different.
And, if we can't get our legislators to do their job—simply honoring the voter-approved initiative for the compassionate medical relief of pain—I can think of a splendid new use for the Great Salt Lake.
The author is a former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and one mongrel dog. Send feedback to email@example.com