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THC 911: Cannabis For Utah Emergency Workers

By Corey Morrill

July 1, 2022

(This post also appears as an article in the Summer 2022 issue of Salt Baked City magazine)

Did you know that Utah is the only state that allows firefighters to use medical cannabis during their off-hours?

The January 2022 Utah legislative session passed SB 46. This closed a loophole in prior cannabis laws and allowed for all Utah employees, including firefighters, to consume cannabis on their off hours with a valid medical card. So while Utah may not have the freedom to grow its own medicine like some states do, the State is continually pushing to improve access to medical cannabis for those who severely need it, and Dragonfly Wellness is at the forefront of that push.

We believe people across the country should have access to this life-changing medicine no matter their position and be trusted to act responsibly. To ensure that those who keep us safe in our community are safe themselves, we will be offering a First Responder discount at our pharmacy. But the question remains, why is Utah accepting medical cannabis for first responders, and how does it support them?

To better understand how the passing of SB 46 affects our patients, we talked to Connor Carpenter. He is a specialist for the Sandy City Fire Department, a hemp grower, and a medical cannabis advocate.

Carpenter became a firefighter after meeting the woman who would become his wife. It was made to be: her father, grandfather, and uncle had all been firefighters themselves and inspired him to devote himself to a new line of work. After marrying, Carpenter and his wife began growing their own CBD-rich hemp to create sleep-aiding medicine. Although he was finding moderate relief with CBD alone, he began adding a ratio of THC to the mixture and found the right balance his body needed to rest effectively - firefighting is no walk in the park and that extends to their off-duty hours.

“Firefighters don’t have great sleep habits,” Carpenter explained. Although THC and CBD products are a much safer alternative for helping induce healthy sleep, Carpenter says many other firefighters have routinely turned to alcohol or opioids to self-medicate on their off-hours.

Eighty-five percent of career firefighters reported drinking within the past month, up to ten days a month, which is about half of their off-duty days, according to surveys by the Center for Fire and Rescue and EMS Health Research. And although there isn’t much comprehensive on opioid use among firefighters, their high rate of injury and constant exposure to stress and trauma-inducing events puts them at a higher-than-average risk of developing a substance use disorder, according to indicators from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in a research bulletin from 2018. With over 2000 firefighters working for Utah, according to the website Firefighter Now, those addiction statistics could affect the lives of not only the firefighters, their families, and their friends, but also the lives of those in the communities they serve.

Carpenter saw this problem affecting his colleagues and knew he had to act. He started to provide CBD-rich topicals and tinctures through his family-run business TriCombzzz & Cripple Juniper Farms. As a cannabis patient himself, he also encourages them to apply for medical cards to reduce their dependence on alcohol and opioids. He explains:

“I can see a huge difference in their personality when they show up in the morning or even talking to them outside of work and talking to their families. To see some of the turnaround for these people is huge.”

The top two qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in Utah have consistently been chronic pain and PTSD, according to monthly reports released by The Utah Department of Health. Both conditions afflict firefighters, and emergency services workers in general, at a much higher rate than the average person, according to data from the CDC and SAMHSA.

It makes sense for firefighters to use cannabis in their off-hours - as it does for all EMS employees. These people put their lives at risk every day to ensure that our communities are safe and stable - so Dragonfly created a discount program specifically to help them get the medicine they need. If they can provide for us during our emergencies, shouldn’t we do the same for them?