SALT LAKE CITY — Nobody is pursuing more cannabis-related legislation in Utah this year than Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, the sponsor of three bills that would affect terminally ill patients' access to it, research into the substance, and the review of existing research.
But in a wide-ranging rebuttal to those measures, an influential medicinal cannabis legalization advocacy group said this week that none of Daw's bills "are worthy of praise or support."
“All the bills in their current form do not act in the best interests of the patients, businesses or individuals who have stepped up and voiced their concerns,” said Christine Stenquist, executive director of Together For Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE.
TRUCE released a point-by-point analysis sharing both criticisms and worries related to each bill that Daw is pursuing, concluding that "none of these bills address the need for broader access to medicinal cannabis."
Daw defended his bills to the Deseret News as an effort to approach cannabis issues by reaching patients where possible while simultaneously increasing state decision makers' understanding of the plant's medicinal properties.
"The aims of these bills are to find a way to get product to legitimate patients who might have a legitimate need and to see how well it works," Daw said. "That's been the whole goal is to find how this works, what we need it for, and then we move ahead."
Daw is planning one additional cannabis bill for this legislative session, as is Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, but the finalized text of each measure had not been publicly released as of Tuesday.
HB195 would legalize the use of medical cannabis extracts for any patient who is using hospice care, has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, or has six months or less to live. But TRUCE claimed in their analysis of the measure that "the practical real-world application of the bill would do little for those it claims to help."
The organization said it was disappointing that the bill doesn't allow such patients to use cannabis through vaporizing or smoking, which TRUCE called "the often preferred method for patients having difficulty eating or drinking or (who) require fast-acting relief of their symptoms."
"If our legislators truly care about those Utahns who are dying from their illnesses or conditions, they wouldn't be worrying about how they consume their medicine from the privacy of their deathbed," the group said in a statement.
Daw said there aren't provisions allowing for cannabis to be smoked or vaporized for patients because "those aren't medical delivery systems."
"This is a medical bill, and we want to stick with medical delivery systems, which includes predictable dosing and predictable delivery," he said.
A regulation in the bill preventing a medical professional from prescribing cannabis to more than 15 patients also drew the criticism of TRUCE, which called the provision an "arbitrary limitation" that is both "nonsensical" and "immoral."
Daw said that limitation is in his bill because "we don't want doctors becoming diverters," making it easier to use cannabis recreationally.
"We wanted to limit it, and we started at 15 as kind of a beginning point," he said. "I'm certainly open to discussion on that (number)."
TRUCE also questioned whether HB195 is workable at all, saying the presumed source of cannabis for patients, as outlined in another one of Daw's bills, HB197, could only be legally used for research purposes.
Daw said the bills don't come into conflict because data pertaining to the treatment of hospice patients will be collected "so we can better use (cannabis) and understand what to use it for," thus qualifying the substance used in those instances under the research provision.
HB197 would enable to state Department of Agriculture to grow the state's own full-strength cannabis, which Daw said will allow Utah to "do real first-class research" with fewer hurdles.
TRUCE said it's concerned about the bill's "lack of specificity about how cultivation would be carried out and by whom."
HB25, described as a very minor measure by Daw, was favorably recommended out of the House Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday. It makes an adjustment to who makes up the membership of the state-appointed Cannabinoid Product Board, which legislators tasked last year with sorting through existing cannabis research and analyzing how robust it is.
HB25 empowers the board to get more useful information by widening the parameters of what cannabis products it is asked to gather existing research for, Daw told the committee.
In its analysis, TRUCE said it opposes HB25 on the grounds that "research can and should occur alongside patient access to quality medical cannabis."