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SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers will consider laying the groundwork for medicinal marijuana use but have no plans this year to make it legal in Utah.
Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, said Friday that he decided not to move forward with legislation that would make rules for obtaining medical cannabis and who would be eligible to buy it and set THC requirements.
Rather, he and other legislators will push bills to allow research at the state and federal levels. Marijuana's federal classification as a Schedule I controlled substance prevents it from being eligible for medical studies in the United States.
Lawmakers will also look at creating a framework for local production and distribution should the state legalize use later.
"This does not mean this is off the table for the forseeable future. It means this year we're going to take a break. We're going to look at the research. We're going to look at the infrastructure," Froerer said.
Lawmakers also want to wait until the Trump administration's stance on medical marijuana becomes clear, he said.
Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said the Legislature would have to provide money for research and creating a dispensing system, and that could be a tough sell in this tight budget year.
Polls consistently show Utahns support medical cannabis, and the Legislature is proving itself unwilling to help thousands of suffering Utahns, said Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute.
Boyack said he doesn't oppose research, but it should be concurrent with decriminalization.
Libertas and other groups intend to work toward a 2018 ballot initiative to legalize medicinal use of cannabis in Utah.
"These are the same people who don't have a lot of resources and political expertise. They feel that they have been disenfranchised and ignored," Boyack said
Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, intends to form a political issues committee to drive the initiative.
"The Legislature only wants to do a regulatory framework and taxpayer-funded research that is unnecessary and duplicative. This path forward continues the victimization of patients in Utah," said Christine Stenquist, the group's founder.
Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, said if marijuana is medicine, it should be treated as such. He said there are qualified institutions and people in Utah anxious to study everything doctors would need to be comfortable prescribing cannabis for a number of conditions.
Daw's HB130 would permit the handling and processing of marijuana and/or cannabis in Utah for researchers conducting "an institutional review board-approved study." Basically, the study must first be approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and comply with federal law.
"We owe it to our medical community before we begin proscribing this to give them the data that they have asked for," he said.
Boyack said that shows no concern or consideration for people who are trying to be functioning parents and contributing members of society.
"That answer epitomizes the ignorance and unresponsiveness of the Legislature," he said.
Gov. Gary Herbert told reporters Friday that medical marijuana use should be based on good science and that research should have been done a decade ago.
"Unfortunately, we have just a lot of anecdotal stories, which I don't discount, but what works for you might not work for me and vice versa," he said.
Herbert said he favors putting money toward research in Utah. He said medical cannabis should be a controlled substance, prescribed by a doctor and dispensed in a pharmacy.
Legislators made the right choice to opt for "cautious" research, said Derek Monson, Sutherland Institute director of public policy.
"While legalizing marijuana has become a popular political fad, rushing to legalize illicit drugs without proper study and preparation risks harming vulnerable people by increasing inappropriate marijuana use, especially among young people whose brain development may be harmed by THC exposure," Monson said.
Cannabis oil is legal in Utah for a select few, mostly children using the expensive tincture to control a specific type of epileptic seizures.