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Utah Senate narrowly defeats medical marijuana bill

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's dance with medical marijuana ended Monday, at least for now.

The state Senate defeated a bill 15-14 that would have legalized cannabis use for medicinal purposes.

"I'm disheartened by the fear that seems to be the underlying theme of the opposition," said bill sponsor Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs.

Earlier Monday, he told reporters he believed he had the votes to pass the bill but would bring it back in the future if that changed.

"I'll keep at it as long as I'm here," he said.

Senators said they're sympathetic to people who could benefit from the drug, but said the issue needs more study.

"This is a major policy change," said Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City. A pharmacist, Vickers said even if lawmakers are intrigued with the idea, they should want to do it correctly.

Madsen touted SB259 as a measure for freedom and compassion. He called medical cannabis a less toxic alternative to addictive opioids and said it would save lives.

Opponents of the bill say it puts the state on a slippery slope toward legalized recreational marijuana.

Madsen, who drove to Colorado last month to try cannabis tinctures and candies for his chronic back problems, acknowledged recreational use could be a problem but will go on regardless of the bill passing.

The bill would have legalized medicinal marijuana use and production in Utah. The bill identifies at least nine qualifying illnesses where cannabis might provide relief, including cancer, Alzheimer's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, Chron's disease, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.

I'm disheartened by the fear that seems to be the underlying theme of the opposition.

–Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs

"I'm concerned it's an open door policy for abuse," said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Wood Cross, adding statistics that show 92 percent of people use medical cannabis for pain.

Weiler said the bill says police wouldn't be able to arrest people for possession of methamphetamine or cocaine paraphernalia if they have a marijuana card.

Madsen said Weiler misrepresented that definition in the bill. "The fact is this does not open the door for all kinds of paraphernalia," he said.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, an emergency room doctor, said he supports medical marijuana as a treatment but not a cure. "What I don't support is the way we have rolled this out," he said, adding lawmakers have not thoroughly vetted the bill.

Madsen said earlier Monday he didn't know how the bill would fare in the House but heard some "rather zealous folks over there that are trying every way they can to keep that discussion from happening."

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said the bill would have received a "good hearing" if it passed the Senate.

But Hughes said he worries about legislation "where we're making decisions (about) what's used for medical therapy."

The speaker said his wife's 92-year-old grandmother, Alice, lobbied him on the issue. "She has me thinking," he said. "I don't know if my mind is changed."

Legislative attorneys say there is a high probability a medical marijuana law would be found unconstitutional

A poll conducted over the weekend showed 66 percent of Utahns favor medical cannibis use if prescribed by a properly licensed doctor.

The Dan Jones & Associates survey of 406 Utahns found support across the political spectrum with 55 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of independents and 92 percent of Democrats in favor.

Along religious lines, 50 percent of "very active" members of the LDS Church support the idea as do 95 percent of Catholic and 64 percent of Protestants, according to the poll.

A Y2 Analytics survey conducted for Libertas Institute and the Drug Policy Project of Utah last month showed 72 percent of likely Utah voters believe certain doctors should be able to recommend medical cannabis to their patients with serious conditions.

Support for medical marijuana was consistent across every demographic group in that poll, including 66 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of Mormons, and 64 percent of those over age 65.

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Dennis Romboy


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