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What to Expect in This Episode

Episode 103 of Utah in the Weeds features Connor Boyack, who is one of the leading proponents of Medical Cannabis in Utah. Boyack is the president of Libertas Institute, an influential think tank working “to change hearts, minds, and laws to build a freer society by creating and implementing innovative policy reforms and exceptional educational resources.” For years, Libertas Institute has been heavily involved in shaping Utah’s Medical Cannabis policies.

Podcast Transcript

Tim Pickett:
Welcome everybody out to episode 103 of Utah in the Weeds. My name is Tim Pickett, and I’m the host. This podcast is about cannabis and Utah cannabis culture. Today’s guest is none other than Connor Boyack, the president of the Libertas Institute. Here in Utah, Connor was one of the key proponents of the legalization of cannabis. Even back to the CBD push there’s talk of… We discuss how he was involved in the initial patient’s story and getting all the media involved. And then we hone in on the discussion between the big players, and the church here in Utah, and the advocates, and some of the advocate groups. And Connor gives his side of the story of what actually happened in that compromise.

Tim Pickett:
We talk a lot about the program and how the program has evolved. Really great conversation. I think this is one of the most important interviews and conversations that I’ve had in this podcast. And just excited to share it with you. From some housekeeping standpoints, the summer is underway here in Utah, and the program is still growing. You can find us at utahmarijuana.org, or right here on Utah in the Weeds podcast. Download it on any podcast player that you have access to and stay up to date with patients’ stories and key players and industry leaders right here in Utah and soon to expand outside. Enjoy this conversation with Connor Boyack. Connor Boyack, you’re the president of Libertas Institute, right? So this is, you considered a think tank?

Connor Boyack:
Right.

Tim Pickett:
So describe that. What is Libertas?

Connor Boyack:
So we’re a nonprofit and a think tank is base… Well, the joke is that we’re a mental institution, a think tank and at base. But what it really means is we are a nonprofit focused on building a public case for legal reform. So we work with elected officials and provide them information. We partner with the public. We go out and educate the public, and we are trying to think up ways to make our world a better place from our perspective. And then figure out what are the plans that need to be put into place so that we can make that a reality. Whose minds do we need to change? Who do we need to partner with? What resources do we need? How do we get all this pulled together in a way that will allow us to accomplish our goal?

Connor Boyack:
And then we build the campaigns and go execute and get it all done. So we basically sit around all day trying to figure out how to change the world. And it’s an amazing job to be able to do, because really, it’s all about serving other people and trying to solve their problems because they often can’t solve it for themselves. And so we have the resources, the knowledge, the network, where we can help a lot of these people who can’t help themselves. And we can solve a lot of problems for a lot of people.

Tim Pickett:
So when it comes to cannabis in Utah, Libertas was involved from the beginning, even before the bill passed or the-

Connor Boyack:
Initiative.

Tim Pickett:
… the referendum-

Connor Boyack:
Oh, yeah.

Tim Pickett:
The initiative?

Connor Boyack:
No. It started… Gosh. 2013, I was in my office watching a documentary that CNN put together by Sanjay Gupta called Weed. He’s now since done, I think Weed 2 and Weed 3 or whatever, but this is when Weed came out. And he was profiling the story of Charlotte Figi, who has since passed. She was the girl that had Dravet syndrome, a form of intractable epilepsy. And they were talking about how these parents were… They had tried everything. They were sent home with Charlotte to go let her pass in peace and at home. And they’re like, “Screw this. We’ve tried everything else. Let’s go to Colorado. People have been talking to us about this CBD stuff. Let’s go see what it’s about.” So they were…

Connor Boyack:
The big focus was on CBD and epilepsy. So I’m watching this and I’m like, “Holy cow, this is amazing. Is there anyone in Utah that falls into that camp that we can talk to?” So we started sniffing around and we met with the Utah Epilepsy Association and all these people. And I’m asking for an interview and trying to… So we finally land with this mom, Jennifer and her son, Stockton like Charlotte had Dravet syndrome. So we did this interview and it was all about her desire for medical cannabis, for at the time was really just CBD focus, but medical cannabis more broadly. And so here’s this Mormon mom, who’s talking about how pharmaceuticals have failed her child and that she wants the ability to try.

Connor Boyack:
There was zero conversation about this in Utah at the time in 2013. And so we put this interview out there and literally… This is not an embellishment. I had every media outlet calling me within the hour. They all wanted Jennifer’s contact information to do this interview. It was a sexy topic in Mormon, Utah, right? Here’s this Mormon mom trying to fight for marijuana. Every reporter was salivating. And so we sent them all to Jennifer. She did a ton of media over the next day. And that is what launched the conversation in Utah. We did some polling. Polling was in the tank. We were in the 40% for support for medical cannabis I think at the time. No one was talking about it in Utah or anything.

Connor Boyack:
And so we spent a year, year and a half focused on CBD, and the Epilepsy Association ran point on getting the CBD law passed. And right after that, we started working on the Medical Cannabis Bill, senator Madsen working for two years at the Capital, trying to get it passed. Failed there, went and started The Ballot Initiative, raised a million bucks, got 120 plus thousand signatures. Went into the negotiations that everyone knows something about and now we have a lot. So that’s the very crude beginning to end. But that’s the early, early story that very few people know about, is how early it started and was it was me watching Weed and calling around and looking for someone to interview. That is precisely what launched the effort here in Utah.

Tim Pickett:
When the ballot initiative got up close to being passed, you were involved in that negotiation. If you were in the room, you got a say in what happened. What happened? Because it looked like from my perspective, this was going to pass. Through the summer I was… At first, I thought, “No way, it’s not going to pass.” I’m working in trauma and GI surgery down here in West valley and there’s no way it’s going to pass.

Tim Pickett:
And then over the course of the summer, it looked like, “Wow, this actually might go.” But then right towards the end, I think it was in August, when the church finally seemed like they decided to come forward and say, “Nope, we oppose it.” And everybody got scared. And then I lost… Then it seemed for me anyway, the drapes were closed and something happened behind the scenes.

Connor Boyack:
So you’re wondering what happened behind the scenes.

Tim Pickett:
I want to know what happened behind the scenes.

Connor Boyack:
Well, we heard of that-

Tim Pickett:
I’ve heard a couple of versions.

Connor Boyack:
Okay. Well I have-

Tim Pickett:
Because-

Connor Boyack:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
But I want to know the truth.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. There’s versions out there and then there’s what actually happened. So let me pause to give context. It is wrong to believe that Prop 2 was going to pass. It initially was. The polling was quite strong. We were at one point in the low eighties in terms of people supporting Prop 2. But then as you pointed out, the LDS church and their partners, Drug Safe Utah, which was Walter Plumb, and the Utah Medical Association and the Chamber of Commerce and the Utah Medical Association and the PTA and the blah, blah, blah, blah. Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
I think the police too.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. Law enforcement.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Law enforcement.

Connor Boyack:
Everyone got up on stage together, but it was really the LDS church. They were the ones out there emailing people who joined their coalition and trying to grow this thing. So the church starts coming out. They send an email out to every member of the church in their database in Utah. First time they had ever done that on a political issue saying, “Don’t vote for Prop 2. We think it’s bad,” blah, blah, blah. So they’re using all their resources attacking it. They were very effective. They allowed the predominantly conservative Mormon community in Utah to believe two arguments at the same time. That you can be for medical cannabis and opposed Prop 2. That was the divergent point where support for medical cannabis remained in the high seventies to even low eighties at some point.

Connor Boyack:
But the numbers for Prop 2 started tanking. And we were doing a lot of internal polling trying… Internal polling means polling that we didn’t release to the public. We’re just quietly doing polling. We’re trying to figure out how effective is this? How problematic is this? And the numbers were going down. I stand before you today very confident in saying that, had we just gone balls to the wall on the ballot, let the public decide, we would’ve lost. And that had we lost then what would’ve been the so-called public will that everyone right now likes, “Oh, they violated the public.” No, no, no. Actual public will would’ve been that we don’t want medical cannabis and we would have zero program today because there would be no incentive for the legislature to act.

Connor Boyack:
And so we negotiated specifically because we had access to this data and had strong reasons to believe that our resources were diminishing. We had spent most all of our money. We weren’t raising as much anymore because people just thought that things were good. Look at the polling numbers, they’re great. This is sailing to the finish line. Meanwhile, here comes the LDS church with its significant resources and Walter Plumb, with his massive resources and others. And we’re like, “Okay, crap. If they continue to attack this thing, this doesn’t end well for us.” And so we decided to negotiate to, for lack of a better word, save Prop 2.

Connor Boyack:
Granted we paired it down to about 85% of what it was, but also what a lot of people don’t understand is that we put things in Prop 2 that we knew were a negotiating items. We knew that they would not survive either in negotiating process like this or subsequent legislative sessions. For example, home grow. I have people to this day that send me little snarky, Facebook messages, “Oh, you removed home grow.” I’m like, “You’re an idiot.” We sat around my table when we were concocting this thing. And we knew why, eyes wide open, that home grow was not politically palpable in Utah, but we put it in there so that we could have a bargaining chip to bargain away at some point. To preserve the rest of the program, to let our opponents feel like they had a win. Right?

Connor Boyack:
“Oh, yay. We defeated home grow.” Fine. We knew we just never, would’ve got that passed anyways. So we had things in there impromptu that we knew would not survive and that was intentional on our part. But then also we did par it down in a few other ways in the negotiating process, protected 85% of what we initially mapped out. And then in the years, since we’ve taken it up to 95% and in the process turned our entire opposition into support. Now none of those institutions are attacking what we’re doing. So in retrospect, despite all the naysayers who understandably don’t know all the nuance and the strategy and everything, I get it. So they attack from a point of, I’ll say political ignorance or whatever.

Connor Boyack:
So there are people out there who have hard feelings about that, but from our vantage point that the folks who started this effort and did all the strategy for it, this went according to plan. It happened great. We’re very pleased with how it turned out. Does that mean there aren’t problems still? Absolutely not. There are still issues that I’m fired up about, want to fix and change or whatever but we are here where we are only because of what we did.

Connor Boyack:
And for all those people who think that we shouldn’t have negotiated, we shouldn’t have talked to the LDS church, blah, blah, blah, we would have no program today. And that was not a reality I was willing to accept. So I was more willing to take the arrows and the attacks from everyone and the complaints and the bitching and moaning than I was to live in a world with no program. And then have those people still complain at me. So in retrospect, I think we did exactly what we should have and I’m happy we did.

Tim Pickett:
I think it’s a good perspective. And it reiterates the importance of knowing that you know what, you’ve got to deal with the things in front of you. And with legislation, the more I learn about it, the more I realize, look, you’ve got to get… Something done is in a lot of ways better than waiting and getting nothing done. And it is a stepwise approach, especially in a conservative state like Utah and medical cannabis.

Tim Pickett:
There are certainly more people, more patients that will talk to me and say, “I’m surprised medical cannabis is legal at all. I thought we were going to be the last state.” So I think there’s more people on the positive side than on the negative side. But if you can’t… And let’s talk about it. Some of the problems you see that in the legislation, you were involved in the negotiation and then passing the Utah Medical Cannabis Act. Right? And then each year, well, you were really involved in the modifications the first couple of years, but maybe not so much in 2022.

Connor Boyack:
Right.

Tim Pickett:
Blister packs were… That was a huge thing that… I think everybody knew that one’s going to have to change.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
But did you have things that you immediately needed to get changed, that you recall?

Connor Boyack:
Well, and during the negotiation, our intent was to save as much as we could. So if that meant stupid blister packs to say flower when everyone wanted to. The starting point for the negotiation was no flower.

Tim Pickett:
No flower?

Connor Boyack:
And no one wanted it. Everyone hated it. No one loved the open ended nature of it. How close it is to recreational, so-called. So our MO was to do whatever we could to save as much as we can. With the intent, with the knowledge that when implementation happened, we would see… This is really important, right? By getting them to sign on to the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, all of our opposition, we got them to say yes to medical cannabis. And because of that, we could hold their feet to the fire in the subsequent legislative sessions. In conversations that were not around, shall we legalize medical cannabis, yes or no? It was about, how do we make this work? Hey guys, we already agreed that we’re going to make this program work. But now we’re seeing-

Tim Pickett:
We already agreed to flower.

Connor Boyack:
Right. And we said yes to flower, but now we’re seeing that, Hey, blister packs have some of these problems. And it was me sitting in a room with some of these people. I’m like, “Okay, so how about we just move to the glass jars? I think that’s going to make more sense because we gave it a go. We’re seeing these kinks. I think this is probably the right way to go. What do you guys think?” “Yeah. Okay. I suppose we should.” Camel’s nose in the tent for lack of a better term, right. It’s just like get them accustomed to saying yes to flower and okay with the law and so on and so forth and then deal with these things later on. So yeah. Everyone’s howling, “Oh, how stupid can you be? Blister packs don’t work.” I’m like, “Guys, I know they don’t work. Just let this play out.”

Tim Pickett:
Just let this play out. Yeah. We’re still two years… You were still two years really away from the first pharmacy opening at that point.

Connor Boyack:
Right? Yeah. We didn’t need to fix it on day one.

Tim Pickett:
There’s plenty of time.

Connor Boyack:
Yes.

Tim Pickett:
Right.

Connor Boyack:
And I think the big thing that remains for me is, I remember sitting in one of the negotiations. At this point we had broadened it to a bunch of the other stakeholders, including the governor’s office. And it was the spokes guy. What was his role? He was chief of staff or something, but it was the guy from the governor’s office. And he said, “We’re talking about which conditions? Yes here, no here.” Utah medical association wants to come in with a hatchet and just get rid of half of the conditions. So we’re having to figure out creative ways to save pain. What a lot of people don’t know is our pain condition is better than it even was in Prop 2.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, it is.

Connor Boyack:
And so for all of the nay saying, in some respects, things are even better and broader. But at the time when we were negotiating over all these things, we were talking about the conditions. And the guy from the governor’s office, he’s like, “Why do we need a condition list at all?” And I’m applauding this guy.

Tim Pickett:
Wow, thank you. Yeah.

Connor Boyack:
And he is like, “Why don’t we just let doctors be doctors and they can figure out what the uses are for?” And you have the Utah Medical Association in the room and a couple others and they would not go anywhere near that. But I think that’s where we need to get to. In my mind, that is the next major upgrade for the system is to get out of the political picking and choosing and just allow doctors to make the determinations that in their best judgment they know about. I think that’s an area where I want to get. The nit pickiness over forms or whatever. Like, “Okay, can we have butter or not?” I’m less interested in that.

Connor Boyack:
Again, to your point, I wasn’t really that involved in this legislative session by my own choice, except when there’s issues that I can do with behind the scenes and have some conversations with people. But for my vantage point, I’ve birthed this child and I’ve adopted away to the industry and Desiree and Utah-

Tim Pickett:
And the doctors [inaudible 00:18:16]-

Connor Boyack:
… Patients Coalition. I’m like, “You guys can squabble about all the little stop or whatever.” If there’s something big or significant where I need to step in, I will. But a lot of the stuff is not so significant where I felt the need to step in lately. I’m on the board of Utah Patients Coalition. So I work with Desiree there just to guide it from a patient perspective.

Connor Boyack:
But no. The cost is a big one, but again, I think that’s a volume play. That the more we can continue to scale and grow the program, I think that will help with that too. I don’t know. There’s room to grow. There’s things to fix but overall, I feel like we got a functional program. And while some people might complain about this or that, we are three X over where the regulators said we were going to be compared to a data…

Connor Boyack:
They did a statistic. Okay, we get the bill passed. We go to implementation and the Department of Agriculture and Food Commissions, a statistician and a researcher over at the U, to say, “Hey, look at all the surrounding states that have medical programs and what their year, one year two was. Base it off a population, do all the corrections and the whatever so this is legit. And then tell us what you think we’re going to have in terms of a patient population year one, year, two year three, so that we can figure out how to regulate that cost wise,” blah, blah, blah. They come out with that number. I think it was in year… Gosh, I just blogged about this few weeks ago.

Tim Pickett:
I Think in year one, it was-

Connor Boyack:
11,000 for-

Tim Pickett:
It was 11,000 patients for year one.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. With three X.

Tim Pickett:
Then they did licensing and growing and all of those sorts of things were about that amount. And we definitely in the first year doubled that. And now you’re at three X where they’re-

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. So for everyone complaining, like the-

Tim Pickett:
Projections.

Connor Boyack:
… the market is clearly saying that there’s strong interest in this. There’s a high renewal rate. It’s helping a lot of people. I don’t disagree that there’s issues to be worked out, but from my vantage point, we got it to a point where I accomplished what I was trying to do. And now I can let other people fight their battles and focus on what they want to focus on. And I’m only going to get involved as I think I’m needed because I accomplish what I set out to do, which is to get it this far.

Tim Pickett:
Do you think things like home grow, things like unlimited patient caps, things like unlimited or let doctors be doctors and decide who can use it, are a long ways off in a state like Utah? Many, many years we need federal legislation change in order to get to something like that. Or do you think incrementally, you can get to those steps-

Connor Boyack:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
… alone in Utah?

Connor Boyack:
I doubt we ever get to home grow in Utah. I don’t see that happening. Patient caps, I’m 50, 50. We’ve raised them and then we’ve expanded the number of people and any nurse under you or whatever. I feel like we’ve resolved that issue. We’ve expanded it so doctors now don’t even need to be a… Whatever we called it.

Tim Pickett:
Oh yeah. QMP.

Connor Boyack:
Qualified Medical Provider.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. The limited medical provider.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. So we-

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. That’s an interesting program in my perspective.

Connor Boyack:
Sure.

Tim Pickett:
There’s been… It’s a good idea. Is a good idea. There’s been about 70 people issued medical cards under that program so far in its lifespan. Which is not a long-

Connor Boyack:
Well, its life span is short. It was supposed to launch a year ago and then they never got around to it.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. It’s only four months.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
It’s only four months. But still-

Connor Boyack:
But again, the-

Tim Pickett:
Fair enough.

Connor Boyack:
The thinking is like, how can we expand the universe of physicians who are going to feel comfortable writing these things, talking to their patients about it, not feeling like they have to go through all these regulatory hoops just to write a single patient a recommendation? And so we’ve tried to solve for a lot of these things. I don’t remember whether the third one. You asked home grow and raising the cap or the condition list. I think we can get there.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Condition list.

Connor Boyack:
I think we can get there. I think that is on the table. Again, if we’ve got a generous pain condition and we’ve got the board that basically approves 95% or more of the requests that go before the compassionate use board. What are the incentives to change the condition list if basically anyone who needs medical cannabis fits somehow? And so, I don’t know what we really gain by taking on that fight if there’s not a real problem to solve. So I think we could get there. I just don’t know that it’s a battle worth fighting compared to potentially other things.

Tim Pickett:
I tend to agree. The thing that I like about an expanded condition list is the data you’re gathering from the state is more accurate. Currently you have 80% of patients that are qualifying under pain, and yet they’re using it for sleep or something else. So you’re not quite getting good medical data. You’re not reinforcing the legitimacy of cannabis as a medicine from a medical provider standpoint. That I think it causes us trouble down the road that we don’t see. It’s not a problem now, but if you want to expand research and viability of the data, maybe you should reconsider your condition list. But you’re right. If it’s not a problem in… If it’s not a barrier to access medical cannabis, then in some ways why fight that battle?

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. Well, cause any scab that you pick at, right? You’re inviting infection. If we try and take this on, then other people are going to come complain and try and push in the other direction and ask for their things. So it’s like, if it ain’t broke that bad, then maybe just let it lie.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Do you have… I’m assuming that you have people that you know, who’ve really… And over the course of, from 2013, all the way to now, has your view of medical cannabis changed? Or did your view… This is more of a question on your political views.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Is cannabis a view? Is cannabis something for you because of your political viewpoint? Or is it important for you because you like cannabis as a medicine?

Connor Boyack:
I was very clear with everyone, elected officials and otherwise during all of Prop 2 that I had never used cannabis in my entire life. I have since, but at the time I never had. And I liked that for Utah, for me to be able to say this isn’t… It’s not about using weed or whatever. This is just me trying to do what I think is the right thing for these people who need it. No, for me was absolutely born out of my political views. I don’t think people should be locked in cages because they ingest something you don’t like. I think the drug war is hilariously idiotic. It’s counterproductive. It’s a net negative on our society. And the government response to drugs are oftentimes far worse than the drugs themselves. I remember seeing a meme a couple years ago about…

Connor Boyack:
Wow, there’s several of them I have saved. But the one guy that… This is cop busting down a door, he’s like, “Are there plants in here? Are there illegally growing plants?” And he’s followed by… This SWAT team and they’re coming in with guns a blazing. It’s like, “What are we doing?” That makes no sense to me. So for me it is political. It’s why we’re focused on psychedelics right now for mental health. That’s the next frontier of what we’re working on. And so it is absolutely a political thing. It was very interesting as a libertarian, which is what I consider myself, that this was a coalition of all kinds of people who we were only United based off of our common interest in legalizing this thing. Which is rare. I remember DJ, who headed up the Utah Patients Coalition.

Connor Boyack:
He was my vice president at Libertas and then we moved over to Utah Patients Coalition for all the signature gathering effort. So I was kind of strategy and he was execution. And I remember he said to me once, he’s like, “You know how stupid it is to build coalitions around a medicine?” Is like, “Imagine trying to build a coalition of people who’ve used aspirin.” How stupid would that be to say like, “We have that in common. Let’s unite.” That doesn’t make any sense at all.

Connor Boyack:
And so of course, then a coalition built around a medicine is going to have its internal challenges and its conflicts and people who disagree. And so it was very interesting for me, working with all kinds of people from different political perspectives and otherwise. And for my part it was all fine and great, but I know not everyone felt that way on their end of things. But it is what it is. So we got it done. We got some bruises along the way and here we are.

Tim Pickett:
Did you build relationships with people on the opposite side of the aisle that you’ve fostered and continued?

Connor Boyack:
Totally.

Tim Pickett:
Because when you mentioned psilocybin, it seems like there’s going to be some of that same type of, “Hey, we’re going to have to work with all kinds of different political viewpoints here to get this done.”

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. The reality is, like with cannabis, you don’t actually have to work with the Democrats and the liberals because it’s presumed that they all support it and they’re a super minority in Utah, so that’s not actually who you need. So it’s like, “We got your vote anyways. Everyone know you supports this and if you guys are the face of this, then maybe it doesn’t go anywhere. So let’s have a different driver for”-

Tim Pickett:
And they understand that too, right. Escamia would be like, “Yeah, I understand that. Let’s let somebody else be the face of it.”

Connor Boyack:
I think the politicians understand that more than the activists. The activists don’t really get the political savvy or that issue. We all have ego in these things, right? Myself included, but they want to be involved. They want to be active. They want to be part of the movement. I’m like, “Dude, you get like tats up the Wazoo, and drags and everything. Maybe we need to have you play a role in the back end and not the front end.” And so it’s hard for people who want to be part of an exciting movement to understand those types of cultural things and recognize that there’s different roles for different people. And we’re all on the same team, team aspirin, team cannabis, team… Whatever your medicine is, but it is.

Connor Boyack:
But to your question, since I’m rambling, yes. No. I try and be as friendly with as many people as I can. Not everyone agrees with the decisions that we made on the negotiation. I get it. I think a lot of them just don’t understand how things went. That’s fine. I don’t expect them to have intimate knowledge of something that was a little bit more tightly held. Some of them don’t want to be friends with me, that’s fine, but anyone who wants to talk and partner up and whatever, we have a very pro coalition standpoint and certainly will be doing that on psychedelics as well.

Connor Boyack:
And I frankly think that’s a good thing. Especially as I look out at our world and there’s so much toxic disagreement and tribalism and everything else. I just don’t want to live my life that way. I don’t think it’s healthy for our society or for me as a person. And so I try and be friendly with everyone who wants to partner up.

Tim Pickett:
How is the psilocybin, the psychedelic fight going? My understanding is they got a bill passed to do some studying. Got a little appropriation for, or money to spend on… Basically do a report. My understanding of it is they want to build a report of what the program might look like in Utah if there was one. And that’s as far as we’ve got.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah, we worked on this with representative Brammer. And you’re right. It is a task force. It brings together a whole bunch of different smart people to talk over the summer and fall. So that’s being set up right now. And yeah, their goal is look at the research from Johns Hopkins and other places that are looking into this. Help us understand what it says, what should we do, is there a path to move forward in Utah? Who can this help? And so they will produce a report in mid October and that is designed to inform the legislature about what that might look like to open that up in Utah. It’s a very different issue. With cannabis, tons of states had forged this path already.

Connor Boyack:
It was part of the national conversation. That’s not the case with psychedelics at all. The only places to do any type of de-crime stuff are… Like Oregon that decriminalized all drugs basically or Denver is very blue, deep blue places. No red state has taken this on in any significant step forward. There’s been… I think maybe Texas did its own little task force that they’re looking at. So there’s been a little bit of sniffing around, but no one’s figured out, okay, what does a red state do when it comes to this stuff?

Connor Boyack:
So our hope is that, “Hey, we created this whole regulated but open model for cannabis.” Is there some learning there that we could take and take this other controlled substance and still open a path for people who… because the reality is, it’s just like cannabis. If anything, this has been weird for me. This might just be the circles that I run in. But I think I know more people who use psychedelics than cannabis, which was really interesting to me, the more I started talking to people about this, I think it’s because I network with a lot of CEOs and entrepreneurs who are always looking for that edge up or whatever. And so maybe they don’t want to-

Tim Pickett:
The brain. The brain healing.

Connor Boyack:
Yes.

Tim Pickett:
The brain on fire-

Connor Boyack:
Yes.

Tim Pickett:
… type thing. Yes it is. And the research around psychedelics is very specific and seems to be leapfrogging cannabis in some ways.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. I agree with that.

Tim Pickett:
Cannabis has this… Like it’s a problem because it’s illegal. It’s not legitimate because it’s been illegal for so long, but it’s been grown in the mountains and we’ve just… The drug war, for example. And psilocybin doesn’t have that. Doesn’t have the stigma. It’s, you didn’t use it in high school.

Connor Boyack:
I think of it like Africa, they have no telephone lines everywhere and all this broadband infrastructure. They basically skipped and all the regulatory problems that come in with right of ways and polls with lines. No, they skipped that and they went to cell phones. But they avoided all those political battles and infrastructure costs and ugly everything from all the wires everywhere.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. And the land and the easements.

Connor Boyack:
Right. They skipped it.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Connor Boyack:
So I see psilocybin, psychedelics in some ways skipping all the baggage and the propaganda and the hysteria that we’ve had with cannabis because it is unfamiliar. Right? We didn’t use it in high school. It wasn’t really the drug of choice. And so maybe not having all that baggage, we’ll be able to have a little bit easier time moving down that path. Maybe, I don’t know. This is fresh field where we’re starting to cut into and we’re going to have to figure out how to forge the path. Certainly there’s all the people out there who just love mushrooms and that culture and everything else.

Connor Boyack:
But again, okay, if we’re trying to get Utah to do this, we’ve got to present this in a certain way. We’ve got to highlight the most receptive arguments with the most receptive people. And it may take us a while, but we’re at least getting started and I’m excited by it because I know people whose lives have been… As with cannabis, for me it’s about the patients and the story, their stories, and learning from these people who have just had overwhelming trauma and crippling anxiety or treatment resistant depression where no drugs were working for them. And then unlike with cannabis where it’s like every day or whatever you’re using it, they’ll use mushrooms once and then they’re good for six months.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. One time. One time.

Connor Boyack:
And it’s just amazing. So I’m excited about it.

Tim Pickett:
It is. I interviewed Steve Urquhart with the Divine Assembly Church here in Utah, that’s protected. And you even see psilocybin as a protected religious activity where cannabis, you would never think about protecting cannabis use as a religious activity, like a peyote or a psilocybin. So there’s differences in the way we view psychedelics, for sure.

Connor Boyack:
Maybe. Maybe. What I’ll say to that and I’ve said it to others is, I’m less convinced that there are religious freedom protections around this stuff. I just think it hasn’t really been tested. Like if you tell a cop on the side of the road who sees your bag of mushrooms that, “Hey, this is my religious sacrament.” I’m sorry. You’re probably getting it confiscated and you’re getting charged. And so if you want to fight that you’re going to go to court and you can try your religious freedom arguments. But while that case, for my past reading of it, I have to go back and refresh. I think it was just peyote centric. Right?

Connor Boyack:
I don’t know that a judge is going to say, “Oh yeah, sure, go ahead. We’ll let you off the hook.” So I don’t want to lead people to think that these are strong tested, validated protections where you are just going to be spared any altercations with the cops or disruptions with your job or anything like that. I just don’t think that’s the case. It sounds nice in theory, I don’t know that we’re there in practice. So I would still urge significant caution because I just don’t know that those protections are as robust as some might claim they are.

Tim Pickett:
It’s a good perspective. What else is Connor Boyack working on, which got you up at night researching and working on projects?

Connor Boyack:
We’re still trying to repeal the death penalty in Utah. That’s a big one for us that we’re working on. We’re working on a lot of local government stuff right now, especially in this economy with housing prices, affordable housing and stuff. Trying to figure out things like ADUs and short term rentals and reforming zoning. So you can’t have people so restricted in building more high density and things like this. That’s a big problem right now. We’re doing a lot of tech and innovation stuff. So we got Utah to pass this thing called a Regulatory Sandbox where innovative businesses can basically have certain laws suspended that conflict with their new approach to doing things while they go out and demonstrate how they can do so safely and effectively.

Connor Boyack:
And so that’s a brand new thing that we’re working with a lot of other states to pass right now. We’re doing a lot with what’s often called school choice. Making sure that families have options beyond just their local government school and make sure that parents are empowered to figure out what’s right for their kids, rather than just what are the options at the school down the road. And so we work a lot in education as well. And then a whole bunch of other… Criminal justice stuff, tons of stuff we’re working on there. So we’re actually doing some strategic planning right now and figuring out the next big battles.

Connor Boyack:
I think psilocybin and psychedelics are a really big one. That’s going to have a lot of our focus moving forward as this task force gets set up, just to make sure this gets guided in the right way. And we’re saying the right things to the right people. And so that one, I think is the bigger one for me right now, just because it’s got that personal impact so deeply. These are people who are suffering right now. So that’s the one that I’m thinking the most about right now.

Tim Pickett:
Do you feel like this is… I look at politics and I look at lobbying and things like this is… Maybe it’s a unique way. Maybe it’s not. I feel like things like cannabis and psychedelics and psilocybin and we’ll move towards as the population ages and people die off. And the young people get a little older and start taking more control in the government offices. Cannabis will become more ubiquitous. It will become more accepted regardless, essentially of what we do. It will just happen. Psilocybin or psychedelics may have that same trajectory. But do you feel like your work at Libertas and your work personally is trying to condense that timeline so you can get change to move just a little bit faster?

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. I agree with you. I think some of these things are in some respects, not inevitable, but probable based on changing demographics and perspectives. I think that’s a fair way to put it. I would just describe it this way. I’m a very impatient person. So I don’t want to wait for the FDA to approve some whatever after a 10 year protracted. I got no time for that. People are struggling now. There’s something we can do now. So let’s just do it. And I think my impatience get me in trouble sometimes cause I am very problem solution oriented.

Connor Boyack:
So it’s like, “That’s not working, right? Okay. Let’s go do that. Let’s get it done. Let’s jump on it.” And so that’s I think what drives a lot of this. I do feel like that’s where things are headed, quote unquote. But no, I do think it’s an accelerant. I also think that some of the people who can be positively benefited right now might not be around in 10 years when we finally get around to it.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. It’s true. 10-

Connor Boyack:
Sorry. Let me let interject a quick story before it escapes out of my head.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Connor Boyack:
Cause that’s what my head does. I lose things quickly. Just to illustrate this exact point. My mom is an estate planning attorney, which means she does trust and wills and things like this. And she had this elderly couple that she had done her wills recently for. And in part because the wife was very sick, she had stage four cancer. Can’t remember which kind, might have been pancreatic, but very aggressive cancer. And so my mom does their paperwork and off they go. She gets a call from the husband about, I don’t know, four, six months later. And he is in tears talking to my mom and he says, “I want you to send a message to your son,” because my mom had shared my role in all this.

Connor Boyack:
He said, “I want you to send a message to your son. I want him to know that in the final days of my wife’s life, when the doctors and others wanted to put her on opioids and she was going to be all fuzzy, and out of it, whatever, while pain free, we got a medical cannabis card instead. And my wife was lucid. She was at peace. She could create happy memories and have final conversations with her family member. And that was everything to us, to have her present up to her final moments.” And so he’s just like with, as you can imagine, very strong emotion trying to convey this to my mom. And my mom’s all like,-

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Oh yes.

Connor Boyack:
And I was too, I’ve shared this story enough times where I’m not crying as much as I share it, but it’s like, had we waited a decade, right, that little bit of suffering for that one person would not have been able to be alleviated. So yeah. No, I’m very impatient. There are people who want change now. A person in our organization can do something about it and on some of these issues.

Connor Boyack:
And so I feel personally called to use a Mormon term in our culture, put my shoulder to the wheel, to try and push some of these problems away and try and make a difference. Cause sure, some of this might be inevitable, but at some point it’s going to be someone getting involved and saying the right things to the right people at the right times and the right way. Why can’t that be us now? That’s how I look at it.

Tim Pickett:
Push it over the finish line.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Do you think we’ve missed anything, Connor that you wanted to talk about or that you want people to know?

Connor Boyack:
I’ll say this. Prop 2 is a struggle for a lot of people. It’s also a struggle for me where my motives were being questioned by a lot of people and again, they didn’t have a lot of information and they were claiming things. That’s fine. I understand it, I’m past it. I think we all want what’s best for those we care about. And other people may disagree with the decisions we made in the past. They may feel that the legislature overturned the will of the people. They may be upset that the LDS Church got involved and had some feelings about this. I get it. But for me, I talk to my kids about this a lot. I tell them, I feel like emotional pain comes when we’re unwilling to accept the reality of our situation.

Connor Boyack:
When we pine for what could have been or when we’re frustrated over what was, or when we’re stressed that we can’t have what we want. When you open this gap between what is and what you think ought to be, that’s where I think emotional pain and stress and anger and all these things come. And so for me, I guess if I were to just crudely simplify how I think, it’s like what is the reality of our situation? I wish the church had not gotten involved. I wish the governor’s office wasn’t fighting this behind the scenes. I wish Walter Plumb would’ve stayed out of it with all his stupid antics. I wish that we wouldn’t have had some of the fallout that we did with some of the activists who disagreed with our decisions but it is what it is.

Connor Boyack:
And we made the decisions that at the time we thought were the best for the patients that we were doing this for from day one in 2013. I want to focus on what is the reality of our situation. It’s a weird reality in Utah. We’ve got sociocultural things that no one else has to do it. I was just in California last week meeting with CEOs of think tanks from around the country. And a lot of them were asking me this dynamic to have this powerful church in my state that at any time can put its thumb on something. And it was like, “Well, let me tell you a story.” And I had stories to share. But we’ve got different sociocultural stuff here but at the end of the day, it’s the reality of our situation. I want to accept it and then figure out how I can influence it.

Connor Boyack:
And for me, I feel like a lot of people looking back in reflection are just angry about wishing that things would’ve been different or things shouldn’t have been done. And I understand it. I know where it comes from, but I hope moving forward that we can just recognize where we’re at now. Be grateful, not to me but just to the process, to the outcome, to the movement, the progress.

Tim Pickett:
You have the program.

Connor Boyack:
Yeah. Just to… Things are great. Let’s recognize what we do have and then figure out ways we collaborate to improve it.

Tim Pickett:
Well, Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute. I really appreciate you coming on. It’s been a long time. We’ve tried to get you… Get the timing to work out. And I like the stories. I like hearing from the people that were there and have a voice in this space. I think you did good work. And I agree with you, it’s not perfect, but it is where we’re at and it’s helping a lot of people. So I really appreciate it.

Connor Boyack:
Well, thanks for having me on. I’m glad we could finally connect and I think these are important stories to share. I’m glad as you told me before we recorded that so many of the interviews you have on here are the patients themselves.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah.

Connor Boyack:
I love that because I think it’s easy, especially at the Capital or in the press to get focus on these little industry issues or the aggregate program, whatever. But it’s that elderly guy who called my mom, right? It’s that individual, it’s the Jennifer in 2013 whose son had, has still Dravet syndrome. And doing it for these people is what it’s really all about. So kudos to you for sharing those stories and clearly we all got more work to do, so let’s get to it.

Tim Pickett:
All right, everybody. Stay safe out there.

 

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