- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Amanda Ellis-Graham just wanted to be normal. After living with multiple sclerosis for about 15 years, she began using marijuana two years ago to cope with the disease that left her confined to her Salt Lake City home, unable to walk, clean, or take a shower.

She says the drug has given her new energy and allowed her to walk again, participating in a mile-long MS charity walk this year by “pushing my wheelchair instead of being in it,” for the first time in seven years.

“I can’t believe that something like this is getting my life back,” the 35-year-old told Utah lawmakers during a health committee hearing Wednesday.

The hearing is part of a renewed push for a medical marijuana law in the conservative state by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain.

Madsen argues allowing medical marijuana is consistent with the state’s limited government, conservative and compassionate values.

To make his case Wednesday, he brought along Utah residents who shared stories of their excruciating pain, prolonged seizures and other conditions and said they would benefit from access to marijuana.

Jessica Gleim, a 31-year-old from Salt Lake City, has a neuropathic disorder that causes her to have attacks of crushing, burning facial pain hundreds of times a day. She said a cocktail of opiates “do not begin to touch the pain that I live in daily.”

Madsen said government restrictions on marijuana take away freedom and options for those like Gleim who believe they could benefit from taking marijuana.

“Do we really want policy,” Madsen said, “That makes these individuals, and many, many others like them in the state, criminals?”

Lawmakers didn’t take any action Wednesday, but several legislators said they worried about controlling who has access to the drug and whether those treating themselves with marijuana are advised by a doctor.

Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, said he worried about edible marijuana products that resemble candy and said he’s heard stories about parents in Colorado having trouble keeping those pot-infused products out of the hands of children.

The hearing before the Health and Human Services Interim Committee is the first of at least three meetings on Madsen’s proposal before lawmakers could formally consider it during their annual session next year.

Madsen said he’s also planning to take legislators on a field trip to Arizona this summer to see how that state’s medical marijuana program operates.

Madsen’s bill would allow residents with chronic and debilitating diseases to have edible marijuana products such as brownies and candies. It would not allow marijuana to be smoked.

The proposal failed earlier this year when lawmakers said they worried about unintended consequences and whether it would serve as a smoke screen for expanded recreational use.

Madsen has said his struggle with chronic back pain and a prescription drug overdose led him to consult with a doctor and try marijuana.

Madsen said he traveled to Colorado earlier this year to try cannabis-infused gummy bears and an electronic-cigarette device. He said he found the treatment effective and would consider using it again if recommended by his doctor.

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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice

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