SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers said Wednesday they plan to "carefully" consider potential implications of medical marijuana use in Utah.
Members of the Health and Human Services interim committee mulled over a long list of questions at the start of several months of in-depth study on the matter, hoping to better understand possible benefits and/or consequences of legalization.
"This is urgent to people who are suffering," said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, who recently backed an unsuccessful attempt to pass legislation allowing medical marijuana for certain diagnoses. He cautioned legislators to not be swayed by propaganda, fear-mongering or misrepresentation.
"We just have to really be meticulous in getting to the facts and not listen to the sound bites," Madsen said. "There's lots of stuff flying around out there, on both sides."
The committee seemed eager to get to the discussion, which will happen at designated meetings throughout the summer and fall, though many remained reserved about the concept of full-blown legalization of marijuana.
"I recognize that there are medical needs it can help with, but there's also the abuse side of it," said Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, the committee chairman. He said the prospects of medical marijuana are "intriguing."
Utah lawmakers already passed a law that allows the use of certain cannabanoid oil for very specified cases of epilepsy in children. The solution contains very low amounts of tetrahydrocannoabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of marijuana, and therefore has a very low, if any, abuse potential, according to some. Similar laws, said the original sponsor of Utah's law, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, have been adopted in at least 10 additional states, "helping tens of thousands of children across the United States."
But, Froerer said, he receives daily calls from constituents who want to use the oil for other diseases and/or health issues.
A portion of Froerer's bill called for research on medical properties of marijuana, as well as growth and business implications in the state, if it were allowed. Though federal regulations and the scheduling of controlled substances forbids marijuana, a Schedule I drug, from being studied at all. Froerer has been actively seeking a waiver for future study of hemp products in Utah.
I am one who would rather wait and take a step cautiously than realize down the road that I made the wrong turn. Let's proceed with caution, but let's proceed.
–Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem
"There are a lot of questions we don't know the answers to and there is a lot of information we need to gather," said Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem. He hopes the committee will scrutinize the effects of legalized marijuana use in other states before making any local moves.
"I am one who would rather wait and take a step cautiously than realize down the road that I made the wrong turn," Daw said. "Let's proceed with caution, but let's proceed."
Any recommendation or study that comes from the committee would likely be drafted into a bill to be presented during the regular session of the Utah Legislature, where it will likely face further examination and process.
Vickers said the interim study period is an opportunity to delve into all sides of the issue, to hear from experts and physicians, as well as patients and the public.
Dates of future discussion on the matter are to be determined by the committee chairpersons and will be announced at a later date.