According to a poll by Utah Policy, 66 percent of Utahns support legal medical marijuana, administered under the supervision of a prescribing physician.
The polling data indicates stronger support with younger and older demographics. Of voters between ages 18 and 24, 59 percent support medical marijuana legislation, along with 67 percent of voters ages 45 to 54, and 69 percent of voters age 65 and older.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been somewhat supportive of medical marijuana. Among the individuals who were polled as being active in the LDS Church, 55 percent were in favor of medical marijuana. The Church previously stated,
“While we are not in a position to evaluate specific medical claims, the Church understands that there are some individuals who may benefit from the medical use of compounds found in marijuana.”
Senator Mark Madsen originally proposed a bill that was later scaled back to limit the amount of THC. Drug Policy Project of Utah’s Vice President Jessica Reade Gleam expressed concerns for the revised bill.
“While we are concerned that many of the amendments may impede access for patients and could potentially increase the overall cost of the program, Sen. Madsen deserves the sincere appreciation of supporters of medical cannabis for his efforts to address the concerns of many involved in this process and adapt this bill in reflection of those discussions.”
Much of Utah’s medical marijuana legalization efforts have taken a legislative approach, in contrast to other states who legalized cannabis through ballot measures. While this method includes lawmakers in the discussion, it excludes voters from the process. This polling data suggests that a well-crafted ballot measure would pass.
Turner Bitton, president of the Drug Policy Project of Utah explains why a legislative approach suits Utah more than voter initiatives.
“Utahns want somewhat of a compromise,” Bitton said. “They want a tightly regulated program that can’t be accessed by children and teenagers, and they don’t want it to lead to widespread legalization.”
He believes that a legislative approach is the way to deploy a heavily regulated medical marijuana program. “I’m confident in 2017 that it will happen,” said Bitton. Candidates currently campaigning for the Utah governor’s seat support medical marijuana in one form or another. In the Utah Policy poll, 55 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats support medical marijuana, making it a possible campaign issue as November approaches.
The first ever full medical marijuana legalization bill introduced to the Utah state Senate has been passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 3 to 2 vote. SB 259 will now move on to the full Senate for a vote.
Republican Sen. Mark Madsen (photo below), the chief sponsor of this legislation, admits to having used marijuana medicinally to treat back pain while vacationing in Colorado recently. After eating marijuana edibles, Madsen reported,
“I’ve had a very strong emotional knee-jerk type of reaction from a lot of folks. I think we need to push past that emotion and push past much of the propaganda that’s been promulgated for a number of years.”
“Reefer Madness’ is neither medical research nor public policy, it’s propaganda, and we can’t be basing our policy on propaganda.”
The definition of marijuana in the bill verbiage excludes the use of any method of administration that results in combustion, meaning that it would not be legal for patients to smoke marijuana. Vaporizing cannabis and concentrated oil extractions would however be permitted. Consuming marijuana edibles would also be legalized under SB 259.
If approved, Sb 259 would establish a system for regulating a restricted number of marijuana cultivators, producers and retailers. The licensing process would be regulated by the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. Businesses would be required to register with the Utah Tax Commission.
Each sales transaction that takes place in a medical marijuana retail dispensary would result in $0.25 paid to the state tax commission. All cannabis products sold at dispensaries would have to be lab tested, and the cannabinoid profile must be clearly labeled on the package.
It would cost businesses $5,000 to apply for a grower or dispensary license, and only one facility would be permitted to operate for every 200,000 residents per county. This means that Salt Lake would be able to issue up to 5 licenses.
In order to register for the medical marijuana program, patients would first be required to obtain a licensed physician’s recommendation for use. Only patients suffering from one of the qualifying conditions would be eligible, and registration would cost $25.
The list of qualifying conditions that would allow a patient to apply to the medical marijuana program include:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Also included in the list of qualifications are the following symptoms that can occur as a result of a treatment for a medical condition:
- Persistent muscle spasms (includes multiple sclerosis)
- Seizures (includes epilepsy)
- Severe nausea
- Severe pain
The use of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), in the form of oil was legalized in Utah in March 2014, when Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 105. HB 105 is very restrictive, only allowing patients suffering from intractable epilepsy to legally possess the concentrated oil. It does not establish a way for patients to have safe and reliable access to the medicine.
The medical marijuana bill approved by the senate committee Thursday is the first expanded piece of legislation introduced. Sen. Madsen has high hopes for the Senate vote, but it will face opposition. Even if the bill is not passed this year, it will encourage lawmakers and voters, alike, to discuss the full spectrum of pros and cons that come with legalization.