Utah Republicans Laying Groundwork to Expand Medical Marijuana

Published on October 20, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah state legislators began laying the groundwork Wednesday to make another run at legalizing medical marijuana for people with certain conditions.

During a committee hearing, four Republican lawmakers presented outlines of measures they’re planning to introduce at the next legislation session that they hope can work in concert. The measures would expand legal uses of medical marijuana, create a regulatory framework to manage a program from growth to distribution, and allow for more local research to study marijuana’s impacts for different medical conditions.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Salt Lake City, urged his colleagues to take action next session, saying veterans with PTSD and cancer patients are two groups that may benefit.

“Our patients out there are desperate. . . They are desperate to have an alternative to opioids in terms of pain relief,” said Shiozawa, an emergency room doctor. “There are thousands of patients in this state alone who may benefit from cannabis is some form. What we don’t know is how and in what doses.”

Shiozawa and Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, are crafting proposals that would allow more local research to study the drug’s impacts for different conditions. Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, is sponsoring a bill that would provide regulatory framework that would kick in as medical marijuana expansion passes. Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, is handling a proposal to expand the legal uses.

Utah already allows a marijuana extract, called cannabidiol, to be used by those with severe epilepsy, as long as they obtain it from other states. But two proposals to expand access died at the state legislature this year.

Utah Medical Association CEO Michelle McOmber said her group supports research but she said the organization opposes legalizing it without more research. She pulled out a bag full of items including sunscreen, nasal spray and cosmetics to make a point that all of them first had to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Neither the legislature or the public should determine what is medicine,” said McOmber. “Anecdotal stories do not medicine make.”

Two researchers from the University of Utah applauded the proposal to allow their teams to do more research on cannabis. Dr. Glen Hanson, director of the Utah Addiction Center, said sound, scientific research will guide policy that legislators won’t regret.

The health and human services committee didn’t vote or take action, just hearing presentations on the proposals and from proponents and opponents.

The hearing came a day after Mike Weinholtz, a Democratic candidate for governor, called for the legalization of medical marijuana after his wife pleaded guilty to misdemeanor cannabis-possession charges. Weinholtz was in the audience to hear about the proposals but didn’t speak during the hearing.

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He said afterward he’s not hopeful the state legislature will take action next year based on the tone of the committee and emphasis on listening to the Utah Medical Association’s opinion. Weinholtz, a heavy underdog to incumbent Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, said he’ll stay involved in the issue no matter the result on election night.

Shiozawa said legislators need to accept that marijuana use is already prevalent, which is why the state should adopt a practical approach to help people who need it for medical reasons. He said he’s talked to his emergency doctor colleagues in Colorado and found out how Utah can make it’s law better.

“People can acquire cannabis wherever they want,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is put in some science that might come up with an efficient method to treat people.”

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