Medical cannabis bill reaches House
March 1, 2016
In what came as a surprise to many observers, Sen. Mark Madsen’s (R-Saratoga Springs) SB73, which would create a tightly regulated medical cannabis program and allow patients to purchase from a dispensary, passed the Senate last week and is now in the hands of the House. As the broadest and most comprehensive of the three medical cannabis proposals up for discussion in this legislative session, SB73 seemed to have the longest odds, and that is why Drug Policy Project of Utah’s Vice President Jessica Reade Gleim, of Park City, said her group is so happy.
"DPPU is pleased to see that the conversation around medical cannabis advancing to the House of Representatives," she said. "We echo the sentiment that many Senators expressed during the final debate on Friday the 26th that this issue has been thoroughly discussed and debated by the Senate and that it is time for the House to have a chance to delve deeper into the issue."
Gleim added that she wanted to take a moment to thank Madsen for proposing the bill and for being willing to amend it when concerns were expressed, most prominently two weeks ago by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"We commend Sen. Madsen for being willing and open to addressing the concerns of various stakeholders through the amendments he added to the bill, prior to its final reading and passage," she said. "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."
Attention now turns to the House of Representatives, and Gleim said DPPU looks forward to working with them "to address their concerns, provide accurate information and continue to build upon the solid steps forward that are made by Sen. Madsen’s bill."
Neither of Summit County’s senators voted in favor of SB73 — Kevin Van Tassell (R-Vernal) and Allen Christensen (R-Ogden) both voted against it — but the DPPU can count at least one ally among the House. Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said last week as the Senate was preparing to vote that he is generally supportive of medical cannabis.
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"From what I know of it right now, I’m in a position to support it," he said. "We don’t know the final form it’s going to take, but I’m inclined to support Sen. Madsen’s bill."
King also said he is supportive of the ballot initiative effort announced last month by the advocacy group TRUCE, saying that if legislative progress isn’t made the people of Utah ought to have a chance to make their voices heard.
"Let them weigh in on it," he said. "If a qualified physician prescribes cannabis for a disease for which medical marijuana has shown to be useful, I am certainly in favor of that. It’s a medical decision, not a moral one, and it should be based on science."
Gleim said she would not be surprised to find a receptive audience among the House membership.
"The most interesting thing about the Utah House of Representatives is the large number of physicians and healthcare professionals who will be adding a new level of scrutiny and intensity to the debate about medical cannabis," she said.
Gleim said the fact that SB73 made it to the House at all is a sign of progress, no matter what happens next.
"The version of the SB73 bill that advanced to the House is, in the end, a compromised piece of legislation," she said. "We do feel that the level of conversation surrounding this issue has been permanently elevated to a place where each of us can engage in meaningful, respectful discourse. And this is an important step in ensuring the debate on the House floor is rooted in facts and not fears."
Gleim said while SB73 is getting all the headlines, SB89, proposed by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, is also set for debate in the House. SB89 would be a more modest extension of Utah’s current policy, limited to high cannabidiol, low THC forms of the drug, but Gleim said it would be an important step forward nonetheless.
"While we acknowledge that this is a more limited proposal, we commend Sen. Vickers and Rep. [Brad] Daw [R-Orem] for the process they followed to craft their legislation," she said. "They spent hours, prior to letting their bill reach the Senate floor, engaging stakeholders, working with regulatory agencies, and discussing the issue with constituents. And as with Senate Bill 73, this legislation would create a regulatory framework around medical cannabis that could be built upon in the future."
Gleim said whatever happens in the final two weeks of the legislative session, DPPU knows discussion of medical marijuana is not going anywhere.
"We anticipate the conversation around medical cannabis will likely be ongoing over the next several years and we look forward to being an integral part of that conversation."