OGDEN — A panel of policy- and decision-makers gathered at Weber State University on Tuesday to make their case for legalized medical marijuana in Utah.
State Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill described current marijuana laws as archaic at the forum, one of several being hosted this year by the libertarian think tank Libertas Institute.
Gill described himself as a supporter of criminal justice reform as it relates to drug use, a stance that earned him several rousing applauses from about 100 audience members gathered at WSU's Wildcat Theater.
"Let’s just go ahead and say it: The war on drugs has been fought, and we didn’t win," Gill said. "That has been a failed public policy for a long time."
Madsen was the sponsor of SB259, which would have legalized medical use of cannabis statewide. The measure failed in Senate by one vote during the 2015 Utah Legislature.
Madsen said his personal experience with medical marijuana in Colorado changed his outlook on the drug.
"Is this what we’re breaking down doors and breaking up families for? It affects your state of mind; I don’t deny that," he said. "But … what is the government trying to regulate here? They are trying to regulate your state of mind. I have a real problem with that."
Roberts, who supports legislative efforts to legalize marijuana in Utah, said police officers statewide are forced to over-enforce drug offenses because of unnecessarily punitive drug laws.
"We (as legislators) are putting them in these situations," he said.
Roberts asked those in the audience to contact their representatives in support of medical marijuana.
Christine Stenquist, director of the nonprofit Drug Policy Project of Utah, said she outed her own illegal use of marijuana in Utah for medical purposes because she thinks the issue needs attention.
Stenquist began using medical marijuana to treat a brain tumor a few years ago, she says, at the urging of her father, a former police officer.
Marijuana use, both medical and recreational, is inevitable, she said, and legalizing its consumption will avoid the pitfalls of the black market.
"You are susceptible to being ripped off," Stenquist said. "(And) when we talk about regulation, it’s about making sure that it’s clean."
Tuesday's forum focused on medical marijuana as it relates to law enforcement.
Libertas Institute President Connor Boyack said future meetings held throughout the year will touch on the issue as it relates to medical research, firsthand accounts of using it for medical purposes, regulatory topics, and research on how the drug can help patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
Contributing: Nicole Vowell