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Murray Journal

Murray City Councilman, LDS bishop, and MS patient Brett Hales hopes for legalized medicinal cannabis

Oct 01, 2018 02:20PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Brett Hales conducts a city council meeting. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave|[email protected]

When first meeting Murray City Councilman Brett Hales, you are immediately pulled forward with a powerful handshake. District five’s two-term city councilman’s grip communicates two things: he is genuinely glad to see you and he is in control of his multiple sclerosis (MS) and not the other way around.

The chronic neuromuscular disease has plagued Hales since 2001. “I woke up and I remember I couldn't move my legs. I went from doctor to doctor trying to figure it out. I did not want to be diagnosed with MS,” said Hales. After four years of denial, he accepted his neurologist’s diagnosis and began treatment.

At the time of the disease’s onset, Hales was in the prime of life. He was vice president of Cyprus Credit Union, bishop of his LDS ward, a husband and father of five. 

MS commonly strikes people in middle age. The neurodegenerative disease attacks the body’s nerve cells’ myelin coating, disabling or aggravating various body functions. The disease can dissipate as fast it comes on and then relapse or in some cases cause death. Celebrities like Teri Garr and Montel Williams have had the disease for decades, while others like Richard Pryor and Annette Funicello have succumbed to it.

To treat the disease, his doctor first put him on a steroid blast and then chemotherapy to attack the disease. After a year and a half on chemo, he was still having painful muscle spasms and couldn’t swallow. As Hales’ condition worsened, he and his wife considered a grim outlook. “I was on a feeding tube; I mean I was very sick. I wanted to live, but I didn’t want to live life with chronic spasms while on a feeding tube,” said Hales. 

Fortunately, a specialist was able to detect a blockage in his esophagus, and Hales was able to eat and gain strength. His muscle spasms were finally controlled, but he needed to use a wheelchair. Hales did have to give up his job, but Cyprus Credit Union helped him retire early and then hired his wife, Cindy, to continue on with his benefits as a loan specialist.

Eventually, Hales regained mobility in his legs, and the doctors learned how to control his muscle spasms. Although retired in his 40s, Hales still felt like he had something to offer. Wanting to return something to the residents of Murray for all the help they gave him, Hales considered running for city council. 

“I remember sitting with Cindy and thinking she would say ‘absolutely not, you can't do that.’ I remember like it was yesterday. We kneeled in prayer, and we both got up, and I looked at her and she looked at me, and we both knew I was supposed to run.”

Hales was elected to the city council in 2011. While the spasms and pain caused by MS can be unbearable, causing him to have sleepless nights and sometimes forcing him to use a wheelchair at city hall, Hales can think of less than a handful of times that the disease actually prevented him from doing his job.

Fortunately, Hales has found something to combat his MS. Desperate for relief, Hales made a trek to Colorado. “I wanted to know if edible medicinal cannabis would stop my tremors. It did. It was the first time in years I felt circulation in my legs and feet. I was able to sleep through the night, which I hadn’t done for years.”

Hales has hope for the future now. With Proposition 2 on the ballot this November—legalized medicinal marijuana or the promised legislation that opponents of the proposition say they will offer as a replacement—he is willing to speak out and tell people his experience with it.

Years back, while getting treatment at Intermountain Medical Center, Hales got word that there was a meet-the-candidate night for statewide offices being held in IMC’s conference hall. As soon as Hales checked out of the clinic, he went directly there, telling candidates about his experience with medicinal cannabis and the need for legislation that would allow Utah citizens to have access to it if they have medical need for it.

Even given all his circumstances, including having his church as an opponent to the proposition, Hales’ faith is not shaken. “My faith is only stronger. I am confident that the right thing will happen, and I am willing to help.”