SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill on Wednesday joined a well-organized push for Utah lawmakers to pass a medical marijuana bill this year.
Gill, a Democrat, joined about 30 people at Utah's State Capitol on Wednesday who want to use the drug to treat medical conditions. The group, holding signs that said "I'm a patient, not a criminal," called on lawmakers to vote in favor of bill that would allow those with chronic conditions to consume edible marijuana products.
"The last thing I want to do is prosecute these families and these individuals because they have a medical condition," Gill said.
The group stood in front of a large, ruled banner marking heights that made them appear to be subjects in a police lineup.
While Gill spoke at the press conference, he told reporters afterward that he's not endorsing any particular bill but calling on lawmakers to pass some kind of medical marijuana program.
He said drug cases have come before his office where people were caught using the drug for medical reasons and he has had to prosecute them because it's the law.
Gill said he uses his discretion to work out deals where charges will ultimately be dismissed if a defendant agrees to certain conditions, but he believes another pathway should be available for those with medical issues.
The other speakers at Wednesday's press conference pressed for a plan from Sen. Mark Madsen, a Republican from Eagle Mountain, that would allow tens of thousands of residents with chronic conditions to consume edible pot products but bans smoking pot.
It's one of two proposals lawmakers are expected to consider in their upcoming legislative session.
Two of his GOP colleagues are working on a more restrictive alternative that would expand a limited Utah law allowing those with severe epilepsy to use cannabis extract oil obtained from other states.
The proposal from Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, and Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, would allow the oil to be made in Utah but would set up tight controls. That plan received an early vote of support in November from some state lawmakers.
Daw and Vickers said Utah shouldn't pass a sweeping medical pot law because there's not enough evidence that it's a safe treatment option.
Connor Boyack, president of libertarian-leaning nonprofit group Libertas Institute, said that proposal doesn't go far enough because many others with painful conditions would be ineligible and still need to illegally use pot.
Boyack, whose group is working to pass Madsen's bill, has cited the case of a Mormon mother as a perfect example of why Utah residents need access to the drug.
Enedina Stanger suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes devastating spasms and frequent joint dislocations. Stanger moved to Colorado where marijuana is legal but returned to Utah recently to deal with charges stemming from her October arrest for using the drug in her car while in an Ogden parking lot.
"I am not asking for an illicit drug," Stranger said at Wednesday's press conference. "I am asking for a plant."