(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Huntsman Cancer Institute founder Jon M. Huntsman Sr. and his wife, Karen Huntsman, celebrate the opening of the Primary Children's and Families' Cancer Research Center in June. Huntsman, a cancer survivor, on Thursday endorsed legalizing medical uses of marijuana.
Utah philanthropist and cancer survivor says cannabis is much less destructive than opioid-based painkillers.
Four-time cancer survivor and philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr. said Wednesday he would try medical marijuana if given the chance.
In a televised interview with Fox 13 in Salt Lake City, Huntsman said he was "a very strong advocate for medical marijuana. I think some folks have it terribly confused with smoking marijuana."
Huntsman also has suffered for a decade from polymyalgia rheumatica, which causes severe pain in the shoulder and hip joints — one of the reasons he supports medical marijuana.
"I won't take the opioids," he told Fox 13. "I'll take the pain."
Huntsman, whose charitable giving to the University of Utah helped found and grow the Huntsman Cancer Institute, said he's never tried medical marijuana, but he'd "love to."
"I've had such severe pain at times and the opioids haven't done the job," he told the TV station.
In a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune, Huntsman said, "If medical marijuana was known by another name, it would have been utilized as a pain medication many years ago.
"From national research and understanding," he said, "the side effects of medical marijuana are considerably less than virtually all opioids and therefore less destructive to the body."
Huntsman's remarks come shortly after the Utah Patients Coalition delivered a proposed initiative to the lieutenant governor's office with patients, caregivers and supporters in tow. If the wording of the initiative is approved, backers must hold a series of public hearings throughout Utah and collect 113,143 signatures from registered voters around the state to get the question of legalizing medical marijuana on the November 2018 ballot.
A coalition representative said Huntsman "has been a pioneer in advocacy and philanthropy for patient care, so it's no surprise to us that he supports medical cannabis as another treatment option for physicians and patients.
"Like so many other patients, he recognizes the dangers of opiates and wants an alternative," the coalition said in a statement. "We appreciate his public support and look forward to giving Utah voters a chance to decide in 2018."
If the initiative wins voter approval, smoking marijuana would still be prohibited. So, too, would driving while intoxicated with medical cannabis. And there would be limitations on the number of cannabis facilities in the state and on physicians permitted to prescribe medical marijuana.
Topicals, oils, edibles and vaping would be allowed, but no use of medical marijuana could occur in public view. Some of the qualifying illnesses already included in the initiative include Alzheimer's disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and autism.
If accepted, the initiative will be sent to the governor's Office of Management and Budget to create a fiscal estimate of the impact of the law. After the estimate is complete, organizers must hold seven public hearings across Utah before collecting petition signatures.
Medical marijuana advocates say they were forced to take the initiative approach after Utah lawmakers balked at legalizing medical marijuana earlier this year, partly due to uncertainty of whether President Donald Trump's administration will enforce federal marijuana laws.
Instead, they passed measures to fund research in Utah into marijuana's potential benefits.
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