ST. GEORGE – Supporters of medical marijuana will have to wait longer for the Legislature to approve potential access to the drug, because it won’t happen this year.
Legislators involved in proposed medical marijuana legislation said in a press conference Friday the best thing the state could do for now was push research forward, yet wait and see what the new presidential administration was going to do.
Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, said that three medical marijuana bills were in the works for the 2017 legislative session. Froerer’s own bill proposes policy regulating how the plant could be used, while one from Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, would provide groundwork for infrastructure (the day-to-day handling of growth, sales and use of the plant, for example).
The third bill from Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, House Bill 130: Cannabinoid Medicine Research, calls for research into the plant’s potential medicinal applications. It is co-sponsored by Vickers.
Due the current political climate and not knowing just yet how President Donald Trump and his administration will address the medical cannabis issue, Froerer said he’s shelving his bill for the time being.
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, yet regulation of medical and recreational marijuana has largely been left to the states. That policy could either be further loosened or tightened under Trump as time passes.
Despite pulling back the policy bill, Froerer said it was “still on the table” in the future and supported the pending legislation being developed by Daw and Vickers.
“If it’s medicine, treat it like medicine,” Daw said, quoting an earlier remark from Vickers. Before medicine can be prescribed, it is thoroughly tested so ultimately doctors know what to prescribe it for, how it may interact with other drugs and what side affects the medicine could have.
“We need to know what the plant does and what it will do,” he said.
Vickers said he was once opposed to the idea of medical marijuana, but has since evolved his view and is now sponsoring a bill related to it.
“There is potential value to patients” from the plant, Vickers said, but he also called for additional research.
Regarding his own bill that would put regulations in place related to the growth, sale and general handling of marijuana, Vickers said it may not pass this year. The bill has a “hefty fiscal note” attached to it, he said, and in a tight budget year, may not fly with other legislators.
Both Vickers and Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Salt Lake City, a pharmacist and medical doctor respectively, want the federal government to drop marijuana from a schedule I to a schedule II drug. This would make it easier for more research on the potential benefits and uses of the plant to be conducted.
Medical marijuana could be studied for the purpose of becoming an alternative to opioid-based medications, Shiozawa said, as well as for possible use in helping cancer patients and those with PTSD.
For the moment though, the federal government only allows certain institutions to study schedule I drugs.
Vickers has yet to file his framework legislation.
So far 28 states have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana – so the question remains: Hasn’t that produced enough research? Daw said he believed it had not.
Daw was also asked if it was unfair that patients in Utah would be denied access to marijuana in their own state when it is available in others.
“I don’t know if it’s fair or unfair,” Daw said, “but I do believe we owe it to our medical community before we start prescribing this – to give them the data they have asked for in order to prescribe it widely.”
With access to medical marijuana being put on the shelf for another year, the issue may ultimately be taken out of the Legislature’s hands by a ballot initiative.
“That clearly is on the horizon,” Daw said.
Medical marijuana advocates were not happy with the results of the press conference.
“The legislature only wants to do a regulatory framework and taxpayer-funded research that is unnecessary and duplicative,” Christine Stenquist, founder of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, said in a statement.
“The path forward continues the victimization of patients in Utah,” Stenquist said. “We are surrounded by states that have whole plant cannabis access and our sister state Idaho has decided to move forward on a ballot initiative. It is time for Utah to do the same.”
TRUCE announced Friday it is forming a separate political action committee for the purpose of preparing a ballot initiative for 2018 that would legalize the use of medical cannabis if passed by the voters.
View the press conference is its entirely below, courtesy of Fox 13 News.
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