Utah Drops the Ball on Medical Marijuana Vote

Pill Bottle with marijuana and pills
Mike Focus/shutterstock

SALT LAKE CITY: The state House voted to approve a bill legalizing medical marijuana on Friday for patients who are terminally ill but voted against the companion bill that would provide patients a place to access the medical marijuana.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the House passed HB195, which allows terminally ill patients with 6 or fewer months left to live to have medical marijuana if their physician recommends it.

However, the HB197 was not passed, a bill that would require the state to write regulations for a contractor to cultivate cannabis for the government, enabling patients to access the medicine.

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food would have been responsible for writing such regulations, while the government would be the distributor for the dying patient's medicine. But the vote Friday only succeeds in giving patients permission to seek relief only to block their ability to get it at the same time.

Utah Rep. Ray Ward (R) is also a physician and voiced further concerns about an amendment to the bill revoking nurses' permission to recommend medical marijuana to patients. Another problem with the bill includes a provision restricting physicians from recommending medical marijuana to 25 of their patients only.

Thomas Paskett, policy director of a nonprofit marijuana advocacy group, compared the blunder to a car with an engine but no wheels, saying "you can't go anywhere." The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Brad Daw (R) worried that his decision to file the bills separately as opposed to one bill was a mistake because one needs the other, a fact his colleagues obviously missed.

Remember, It Is Still Federally Illegal

Other lawmakers worried about marijuana being illegal under federal law and remaining compliant. Rep. Merrill Nelson (R) said "We're violating federal law. Whether we like it or not, this is an area of law preempted by the federal government," along with comments that medical marijuana would directly increase recreational marijuana use. 

Rep. Mike Noel (R) said that Utah would be correcting years of inaction by Congress by legalizing medical marijuana. Noel also said that we have access to a plant that can give people respite, helping their constant pain and convulsions, saying "we can pass it and do what the federal government should have done a long time ago."  

The director of the Utah Patients Coalition DJ Schanz said that the bills Daw has sponsored are a spectacle, calling them "cannabis theater," and adding that the bills do nothing to give patients access and respite.

He says that the language is not sufficient in Daw's bill and has gathered 142,000 signatures on another medical marijuana measure of his own. He says that the measure is more complete and will "trump" the bill that was just passed by the House. For the measure to make it on the November ballot, Schanz needs another 113,000 signatures.

The measure Schanz wants on the November ballot would ban public consumption and smoking but would permit medical marijuana use for several illnesses including cancer, autism, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, PTSD and chronic pain.

If Schanz gets his measure on the ballot, Friday's vote may not matter because Utah voters could legalize marijuana in the next election. Several polls show that at least 76 percent of Utah residents support legalizing medical marijuana, with 64 percent of conservatives and 94 percent of liberals for legalization.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said back in January that he believed that voters in the state will legalize medical marijuana. Unfortunately, in the meantime, the federal law seems to be a determining factor for the majority of legislators.