SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he's open to legalizing marijuana in Utah for medical use.
"I'm open to the idea of medical marijuana and the discussion of how it can be used as a medicine based on science, and making sure we have good, collaborative efforts so we can answer the questions that are out there," the governor said.
Herbert said during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7 that the state has "a history of looking at opportunities, for medical purposes, to bring substances on board that maybe historically have not been traditional medicine."
He cited cannabis oil, approved by lawmakers a year ago, as "helping people who have had seizures, and seems to be demonstrating scientifically there is some benefit."
Later, the governor told KSL and the Deseret News in an interview he has "always been open to the discussion" about legalizing medical marijuana but didn't like the "surprise piece of legislation" introduced near the end of the 2015 Legislature.
The bill to legalize cannabis use for medical purposes, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, failed in the Senate by a single vote. Madsen has said he plans to bring it back in the 2016 Legislature.
During last session's debate over Madsen's bill, the governor said he wanted to avoid the "slippery slope" of legalizing medical marijuana because of concerns that it could "morph" into recreational use.
"I still have those same concerns," Herbert said in the interview. "I certainly don't want to go down the slippery slope" of recreational users gaining access by claiming a headache and "Dr. Feelgood is the one out there distributing the medicine."
Madsen's bill, the governor said, raised a lot of questions but offered no answers.
"It was a concept," he said, of allowing marijuana to be used to treat "medical issues based on good science. OK, what's not to like about that? We just want to make sure that's really the focus."
Madsen said in a phone message on Thursday that, "obviously, I'm pleased that the governor's perspective seems to be moderating on medical cannabis."
An opponent of legalizing medical marijuana, Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, said he believes the governor's statement will encourage more support for future attempts.
"I think that's a political statement," Christensen said of the governor's willingness to look at legalization.
Christensen said he opposes medical marijuana because the state will "lose control of it. It will be used for excuses right and left. It will be abused. We might as well make it recreational marijuana."
The Libertas Institute welcomed Herbert's statement Thursday, tweeting, "We’re pleased to note that (Herbert) is now supportive of a well-regulated medical cannabis program."
The Libertarian-leaning institute that bills itself as "advancing the cause of liberty in Utah" has scheduled a forum on medical cannabis at Weber State University on May 19 featuring Madsen and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
I'm open to the idea of medical marijuana and the discussion of how it can be used as a medicine based on science, and making sure we have good, collaborative efforts so we can answer the questions that are out there.
–Gov. Gary Herbert
Madsen, who said during the legislative session he had traveled to Colorado to try cannabis tinctures and candies to relieve his chronic back pain, appeared in a video released last month by the Drug Policy Project of Utah promoting legalization of medical marijuana.
At Thursday's KUED news conference, the governor also discussed the Utah GOP's efforts to ensure he and Republican candidates will have their party affiliation listed on the 2016 ballot.
Herbert said he agreed with a proposal to have Republican candidates attest to their support of the party's platform, but didn't approve of screening candidates through what he called a "purity panel" or charging them fees.
The governor said complying with SB54, a law limiting the power of political parties to control the nomination process, is "an emotional issue" that has caused divisiveness within the GOP.
"I think we're headed in the right direction," Herbert said of the party's efforts to make the changes needed to become a qualified political party that can advance candidates to the ballot. "I expect there to be a resolution."
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