By October 1987, the disease AIDS was still a mystery for the medical profession and for most Americans. AIDS gained a higher profile as it began to take the lives of several prominent people in the entertainment industry.
In Congress at the time, a representative from West Hollywood, Henry Waxman, was chairman of the House subcommittee on Health and Environment, the subcommittee assigned to look into the problem of AIDS. Waxman was a dedicated liberal and loyal friend of the entertainment industry. In October 1987, Waxman moved the first congressional bill to provide federal funds for AIDS research.
But Waxman had a big public relations problem to overcome. In those days, AIDS was known as a “homosexual disease” – nearly 99 percent of the people dying from AIDS in the United States were homosexuals. Most Americans knew little about it and what they did know simultaneously frightened them and didn’t seem like their problem. At that time, it was a “homosexual problem.”
To help change public opinion and the minds of his congressional colleagues, Waxman, ever the clever politician, created a mainstream and sympathetic poster boy to represent the cause. His name was Ryan White, an 11-year old hemophiliac who contracted the HIV virus during a blood transfusion and was suffering from full-blown AIDS. On the main stage, at full committee, the parents of Ryan White wheeled him up to the witness table and let him describe how this horrible illness was taking his life. It was high drama and very effective. The Ryan White AIDS bill passed overwhelmingly that year.
While the issues are quite different, the same public relations ploy used by Waxman to fund AIDS will be used by Utah’s pot lobby favoring Senator Mark Madsen’s medical marijuana legislation in the upcoming legislative session. The pot lobby will be looking for a sympathetic poster boy as the face of pot legalization now that Madsen, himself, the old poster boy and sponsor of the bill, is increasingly seen as self-serving and an ineffective salesman.
As it turns out, Utah’s pot lobby might have found their poster boy or, in this case, their poster girl. She is a 27-year old, wheelchair-bound, Mormon mom suffering from a very rare and debilitating illness. Her name is Enedina Stanger. After years of taking pain pills for her illness, she discovered that smoking marijuana effectively relieves her pain without some of the side effects of opioids. Her two daughters suffer from the same genetic disease and she is willing to take the public stage to help Utah’s pot lobby legalize marijuana.
Senator Madsen and his pot lobby will shamelessly exploit Ms. Stanger’s illness to get what they want. It doesn’t matter that nobody has a problem with medical marijuana in cases of terminal illnesses or devastating and debilitating diseases such as Ms. Stanger has. They will use Ms. Stanger to help pass a bill that goes far beyond her rare medical situation. Just as Congressman Waxman used the boy Ryan White to deceive his colleagues and the public about AIDS, so too will Senator Madsen and Utah’s pot lobby use Ms. Stanger to deceive Madsen’s legislative colleagues about the his pot bill. And though she will be used willingly to promote Madsen’s pot bill, her rare illness is not what Madsen’s pot bill is all about.
Again, nobody has a problem with medical marijuana in cases of rare, terminal, devastating or debilitating illnesses. Madsen’s bill carves out a whole new and broad spectrum of coverage called “chronic pain.” Surely Ms. Stanger and other victims of debilitating illnesses suffer from chronic pain. But Madsen’s bill doesn’t define chronic pain and, absent narrow definition, his bill opens the door to the broad use of marijuana for anyone claiming chronic pain. That’s his goal.
His goal isn’t to help people with rare illnesses who have few options to relieve their pain. His goal is to relieve his pain and, in the perverted name of freedom, open the door in Utah to legalizing pot for everyone. And, as naïve as most Utahns are about such matters, not to mention how passive aggressive Utahns tend to be, Madsen has a fighting chance to pull the wool over the eyes of his colleagues and the public.
The truth isn’t a big priority for Madsen and Utah’s pot lobby. These ideologues just want what they want regardless of consequences. That seems to be the new freedom.