From concerns to outright opposition, local legislators address medical marijuana legalization

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, speaks at the Southwest Behavioral Center concerning the impacts of marijuana use and the 2018 medical marijuana ballot. Vickers does not support the initiative for various reasons, St. George, Utah, Jan. 17, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Local legislators voiced their concerns at two separate events Wednesday regarding legalizing medical marijuana and the accompanying 2018 ballot initiative. Worries ranged from legal medical marijuana use being a step toward recreational use to the ballot initiative being too vague as to how the drug would be administered to patients.

During Wednesday’s first event, a presentation held at the Southwest Behavioral Health Center in St. George regarding the potential dangers of marijuana use, Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, shared his thoughts on the ballot initiative before a crowd filled with fellow legislators, health care and civic officials and others.

Read more: Utah voters could decide in 2018 whether to legalize medical marijuana

“I’d much rather see this go through the Legislature, but the initiative shows people are tired of waiting,” Vickers said.

Like his fellow legislators, Vickers said he believes there hasn’t been enough research done on marijuana to prove its touted plethora of medicinal benefits.

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, speaks at an event at the Southwest Behavioral Center concerning the impacts of marijuana use and the 2018 medical marijuana ballot. Vickers does not support the initiative for various reasons, St. George, Utah, Jan. 17, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Last year lawmakers passed a medical marijuana research bill, but that was it for the 2017 legislative session.

The University of Utah is currently doing some research, Vickers said. Results are anticipated by spring yet may not be published until the end of the year.

The Legislature is very cautious when approaching the issue of medical marijuana, Southern Utah Rep. Jon Stanard said. Last year they wanted to see what the Trump administration was going to do in relation to state-legalized marijuana.

The start of 2018 has left lawmakers with the same sense of caution thanks to recent actions by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Earlier this month, Sessions ended the Obama-era policy that has allowed the pot industry to thrive in recent years. The Justice Department has taken a hands-off approach for the most part, but that has been reversed. Sessions has advised federal prosecutors they are at liberty to go after cases where state law is in defiance of federal drug police.

Read more: Sessions ends policy that let legal marijuana trade grow; Hatch’s office calls action a ‘roadblock’

“It’s troubling whenever you propose a law that’s counter to federal law,” Vickers said Wednesday.

Rep. Jon Stanard comments at an event at the Southwest Behavioral Center concerning the impacts of marijuana use and the 2018 medical marijuana ballot. Like many of his fellow legislators, Standard does not support the initiative for various reasons, St. George, Utah, Jan. 17, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Still, Vickers said that he and Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, are drafting marijuana policy bills for the upcoming legislative session.

A bill Vickers is proposing focuses on regulation for the CBD oils currently popping up on store shelves, as well as regulating how medical marijuana gets to a patient.

“What form of (the medical marijuana) and professional guidance do you want to give the patient?” Vickers said. “Well, everyone’s mostly agreed it need to through a physician.”

The bill would provide defined guidelines where the medical marijuana initiative is less detailed, Vickers said.

“If its medicine, then let’s treat it like medicine,” he said, referring to having regulations governing prescriptions and dosage.

Legislation proposed by Vickers primarily applies to the CBD chemical derived from marijuana, and not THC, the psychoactive part of the plant. The ballot initiative would approve the whole plant for use, bring both chemicals along with it. That is another reason Vickers said he can not support the initiative.

This June 6, 2017, photo, Utah resident Doug Rice administers the CBD oil Haleigh’s Hope, a cannabis compound used by his daughter Ashley at their home in West Jordan, Utah. Utah lawmakers balked again in 2017 at joining more than half of all U.S. states and passing a broad medical marijuana law. Rice says Utah’s approach means his daughter, who has a genetic condition, is missing out on the one drug that eliminates her frequent seizures. Utah already allows cannabidiol to be used by people with severe epilepsy, as long as they obtain it from other states. | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Both Vickers and Stanard acknowledged the stance of wanting to wait on more research can be a hard one, especially when faced with individuals who believe they or their loved ones have benefited from medical marijuana use.

“For me, this has been a tough one,” Stanard said. “It’s hard telling people who use it that they have to wait (on research).”

Read more: This St. George family hopes their child’s experience will make you think differently about medical cannabis

Medical marijuana advocates argue enough research had been done in other countries and should be given more credence.

At the Sunshine Caucus pre-legislative forum Wednesday evening, the legislators representing St. George districts continued sharing reasons for their opposition to medical marijuana. Vickers did not attend the event.

Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, echoed earlier sentiments that medical marijuana in Utah could open the door to other initiatives that may allow recreational marijuana.

L-R: St. George area Sen. Don Ispon and Reps. Lowry Snow, Walt Brooks and Jon Stanard (not pictured) speak at a forum previewing the topics of the upcoming legislative session in Salt Lake City. Medical marijuana is anticipated to be one of the hot topics covered by lawmakers this year due to the 2018 medical marijuana ballot initiative, St. George, Utah, Jan. 17, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

“We’d be just like California,” Brooks said. “It could get easily be abused.”

Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, said he would only be open to supporting medical marijuana if the law allowing it was extremely strict and only allowed for certain specific conditions in which medical marijuana would be prescribed.

“Right now, (the medical marijuana initiative) is too lenient,” Snow said. “It would be way too easy to get a prescription, and you could even grow it in your own home.”

“There is a lot of money behind the effort to legalize medical marijuana,” Snow said. “And if you look at the polling numbers, it’s clear we have a big fight in front of us for those of us that oppose it.”

Read more: New poll shows more than 75 percent of Utahns support medical marijuana ballot initiative

Some legislators in states where marijuana is legal proclaim its benefit to the government because of the tax revenue marijuana produces, Stanard said.

“More money does not outweigh the public health risks of marijuana,” Stanard said.

The medical marijuana ballot initiative launched by the Utah Patients Coalition in June needs to gather over 113,000 signatures across Utah by April 15 in order to get on the 2018 ballot.

The group said it had obtained 85,000 signatures just after the start of the new year.

St. George News reporter Spencer Ricks contributed to this article.

Read more: See all St. George News stories related to Utah’s 2018 Legislative session

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.


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  • great success January 19, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    I’d feel a lot better about these old white guys’ opinions if they said, “yeah, I’ve tried the stuff on multiple occasions, and I really have some concerns.” But we know they’ve never tried it, and they’re just projecting their ingrained biases inherited from the war on drugs era where marijuana was demonized. The reality: if a guy like Vickers or Snow tries marijuana, the first reaction is probably, “Huh. So this is what all the fuss is about? I’ll stick with my opioids, thank you very much.”

  • Caveat_Emptor January 19, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    I would let medical professionals determine the efficacy of THC for their patients. It is likely that most folks who benefit by the substance are already acquiring their supplies outside of Utah, in a covert manner.
    The state could easily control THC distribution, using business models in place for other products.
    Reefer Madness seems so ironic today.

  • PatriotLiberal January 19, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    In my opinion, ALL DRUGS should be legal.

    I thinks its so STUPID that we, as a society at large, punish people for merely possessing an ounce of cocaine or a gram of weed harsher than we do people who commit violent crimes like Battery. The state of Utah spends $22,000/year to house a single inmate. It’s awful. No one should be in jail for simply possessing/using any drug. That said, If they use that drug then drive or something, that’s different. DUI should be a crime. Let me put this into some perspective:

    Lets say that there are 100 inmates in Utah there for POSSESSING or USING some drug. That’s 2.2 MILLION dollars per year. That’s 2.2 MILLION dollars that could be used for ANYTHING ELSE! (infrastructure, education, etc.)

  • LocalTourist January 19, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    Lies and deceit.
    And that’s from our legislators, not the cannabis advocates!

    Rep Snow says the ballot initiative allows home growing, it does NOT. So he’s either lying or he hasn’t read it, both of which disqualify him from speaking to the topic.

    Snow also says there is a lot of money behind the effort to legalize weed. But he doesn’t say anything about the money legislators took from insurance, health care and pharmaceutical companies. Vickers got over $9000 from those contributors. How much did YOU get, Rep Snow??

    Vickers says “go slow”, while he crafts legislation to make his fellow politicians rich. Don’t believe me? Look at Vickers’ failed bill SB 211 last session. It created a marijuana debit card system, and focused on one company to process those payments– a company that Sen Curt Bramble sits on the Board of Directors. I bet the bill he is writing for this session has similar language.

    And the issue with THC… is not an issue. to die from an overdose of THC, a person would have to ingest 1500 pounds of the weed grown by the feds at the University of Mississippi. Yep, 1500 pounds… in 15 minutes.
    Ain’t gonna happen. Vickers is trying to scare people about this.

    Research? There are THOUSANDS of studies, done in other countries because our federal system still hold cannabis as Schedule 1 “with no medicinal value”. Yet our federal government decided to patent cannabis. Yes, they hold a patent on a plant!

    The people lying to you are, indeed, these old white guys in positions of power, that stand to lose money if cannabis is legalized.

    • AnotherReader January 19, 2018 at 3:05 pm

      @LocalT, where no dispensary is available a person is allowed to home grow. You apparently lied or didn’t read the initiative yourself.

      • LocalTourist January 19, 2018 at 4:57 pm

        Actually I HAVE read it. Perhaps you should look closer.
        Perhaps you noted the effective date of that section– 2020. Plenty of time for the legislature to get off their butt and get involved in crafting framework for the program. If the legislature does their job, this section will be altered or dropped and never take effect.

        In addition, if this DOES take effect, it (growing) cannot be in a residential zone. It would have to be in another zone, so it wouldn’t be at a private home. It “could” be a neighborhood grow, if the municipality allowed for alternate zoning.

        So, in essence, home growing is NOT allowed.

    • redrock4 January 25, 2018 at 1:07 pm

      Totally well made points – I just looked up the patent on MJ. I had no idea LOL! It is such a money game at the political level. But I’m encouraged that there are so many voters advocating for legalization. I think it says something about the people in this country and I hope it’s a trend that continues.

  • DRT January 19, 2018 at 3:46 pm

    But this here is Utah! Our minds are made up, and will not be confused by the facts!

  • youcandoit January 19, 2018 at 6:51 pm

    You need to be awhere if they pass the marijuana bill except a letter from the government to turn your guns over. It happened in Hawaii and California. Do your research. I don’t care either way.

    • LocalTourist January 19, 2018 at 10:48 pm

      A week after issuing those letters, the state of Hawaii changed it mind and reversed its position. California never did any such thing.
      Like you said, do your research.

  • utahdiablo January 19, 2018 at 8:37 pm

    Everyone’s Dying to try to drive stoned….come on, give em a chance

  • jaltair January 19, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    In the early 80’s, at UCLA we as RNs dispensed cannabis in cigarette form to cancer patients to help relieve nausea after chemo therapy and it worked wonders. The substance in cannabis, THC, has value if used medically in many instances. It is known to help lessen various pain from cancers including multiple myeloma, arthritis both rheumatoid an osteo, arthragia, fibromyalgia, and many other illnesses causing pain. The State of Utah leaders should speak with the medical marajuana organizers in other states who have successful programs. I believe the reasons Utah legislators are hesitant to vote in favor of medical marijuana use are due to religious constraints. The efficacy of medical marijuana use has been demonstrated many times over and documented as well, there’s no reason to hold people who might benefit from its use hostage because of a church stance.

  • ladybugavenger January 20, 2018 at 10:16 am

    Ibuprofen is my drug of choice. Some may prefer acetaminophen, like Tylenol. I had a baby-ibuprofen. Had a root canal-ibuprofen. Had a hysterectomy-ibuprofen. Had a severe ear infection-lortab!.

    They tried to give me opiods for a root canal-i refused! Having a baby the strongest they would give me is Tylenol. I like ibuprofen. Ear infection lortab! Heck ya I took it. Did marijuana make my ear infection hurt less-won’t ever know, didn’t feel like smoking it.?

    I’ve tried other opiods by prescription but the nausea was worse than the pain.

    So I take ibuprofen but only for severe pain, like- I can’t walk on my foot standing straight up or a bad headache, but mostly I just suck it up because I don’t want to be a pill popper.

    Would I smoke pot if it’s legal? Not if it affected my employment which I’m 99% sure my employer wouldn’t pay workers comp if I got hurt on the job with thc in my system.

    I think my pot smoking days are over, but I’m 100% for legalization. Legalization of recreation use included. Just legalize it. We would have less people in jail and more resources for violent crimes and crimes against children.

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