ST. GEORGE – With as many as five proposed bills in the works, medical marijuana will likely be one of the bigger issues the Utah Legislature deals with next year.
The bills were the subject of an interim Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday. However, as Fox 13 News reports, the committee voted to take no action at this time. This by no means kills the bills as they are likely to be continually tweaked as the 2017 session approaches.
“We conclude the issue is significant, but that more time is needed to develop solutions and consensus,” Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said during Wednesday’s hearing.
While visiting St. George during election night, Vickers told St. George News that he and another state legislator are working on bills that would address three components related to medical marijuana.
The first component would deal with putting together a framework of how the state would administer and regulate medical marijuana use. This would include guidelines regarding growing the plant, licensing who can grow it, reporting for who is using or growing, physician training and so forth.
“There’s got to be a way for the state to administer this if a policy ever goes into effect,” Vickers said.
The other two components being looked into relate to what parts of the plant may be used, as well as provide a way for additional research to be done via federal guidelines, Vickers said.
Use of medical marijuana would possibility be done through a 10-to-1 parts rule, the senator said. That is: 10 parts of CDB, or cannabidiol, to one part of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive part of the marijuana plant.
Another proposed bill would allow for more research into medical marijuana through the University of Utah.
“That’s the one thing we keep hearing is there’s not enough research, so we’re trying to get that component in,” Vickers said.
Yer another medical marijuana bill is being put forth by Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville.
“My bill, I think most people would say, brings more people into the tent to help them with different afflictions,” Froerer told Fox 13 News. “What it does is it puts the medical profession in charge in terms of what ratio works for the patient.”
Froerer said he hopes he and Vickers can work to create compromise legislation.
“We have a lot of problems with these bills and I’m concerned they never invited patients to the table,” said Christine Stenquist, a medical marijuana advocate with Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE), as reported by Fox 13 News.
Some of the proposed legislation seems too restrictive when it comes to patients who may qualify and what ingredients may be used, versus others that are more relaxed in comparison.
Stenquist also said she supports the idea of getting a ballot initiative pushed through.
“I think whoever is working on a ballot initiative should go through with it. If nothing else it will be the thing that keeps these guys in place,” she told Fox 13.
Currently the state does allow qualifying individuals to use hemp extract oil for treatment of epilepsy. This is done through the Utah Department of Health’s Hemp Registry, a program created in 2014 that allows patients to acquire the extract oils produced out of state. These patients are issued cards indicating they are legally allowed to have the hemp extract oil.
Doug Rice, father of 24-year-old Ashley Rice, told the Deseret News he travels to Colorado to get the oil for his daughter. It’s a pricy endeavor as the oil, which contains the non-psychoactive marijuana ingredient CBD, costs about $275 for 100 milliliters.
Despite the cost, using the oil has brought Ashley’s Rice’s seizure attacks down from over 20 a day to between three and eight, Doug Rice said.
Though 24, Ashley Rice functions more like a 3 year old due to a developmental disability. Her father said using the CBD oil allows her to remain herself, rather that leaving her in a zombie-like state that prescription Valium-like drugs do.
“Then she’s back to being the same kid,” Doug Rice told the Deseret News. “She actually has a life and a great personality that you didn’t see because it was so obtund, so masked by the Valium stuff.”
Still, Doug Rice said he is also frustrated that the additional treatment medical marijuana could provide his daughter is currently unavailable due to current state law.
Whatever course the Legislature may take next year, be it legislation or ultimately a ballot initiative, the opinion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may once again come into play.
Earlier this year the church came out against a medical marijuana bill sponsored by then Republican Sen. Mark Madsen, of Saratoga Springs, and is considered a factor in why the bill didn’t survive the legislative session.
Many of Utah’s legislators are members of the LDS Church.
While Madsen’s bill would have allowed the use of the whole plant, Vickers ran a competing bill that allowed limited use. It died in the Legislature as well.
Whether or not the LDS Church weighs in on the subject once again remains to be seen.
Prior to the election, the LDS Church sent letters to congregations in Arizona, California and Nevada asking members to vote against the legalization of recreational marijuana. While the measure failed in Arizona, it passed in California and Nevada.
In Nevada it will be legal to carry up to an ounce of marijuana starting Jan. 1, 2017. Nevada lawmakers have until Jan. 1, 2018, to create specific regulation regarding legalized use.
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