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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert waded into the political fray Thursday in his first media availability since the Legislature began in January, taking questions on medical marijuana, the controversial .05 percent blood alcohol law and a proposal to ban abortions solely because the fetus has Down syndrome.
While Herbert conceded the DUI law, which would be the toughest in the nation and go into effect Dec. 31, could be tweaked, he continued to defend it.
"You can drink until your eyes bug out," he said, emphasizing just "don't drink and drive."
Herbert said tourism numbers in Utah have not abated despite an intense national campaign painting the state as unfriendly or even punitive to visitors and predicted those numbers will continue to increase next year, even if the measure goes into effect untouched.
In addition, he said testing in Utah by law enforcement has already revealed there is some impairment at .05 percent blood alcohol level. Utah's standard for DUI is currently .08 percent, although there are many countries around the world that have the lower threshold in effect.
The governor said he is opposed to self-medicating with marijuana to combat a health issue's impacts and also believes allowing "personal" grows for medical reasons is a problematic arena for the state. The state, too, if it enters the world of medical marijuana dispensing, has to live with the reality that there is a federal law on the books that is in conflict.
Still, he said, most seem to agree if there are proven medical benefits from the consumption of marijuana, "let's find a way to make things happen."
Herbert said medical marijuana should be prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacist.
Activists are gathering signatures in hopes to put the issue on the fall ballot. Under the proposal, a doctor could recommend medical marijuana for a patient and the Utah Department Health would issue a card. It also allows for a personal grow of six plants if there are no dispensaries within a 100 miles of their home.
Herbert was also asked about the touchy issue of a proposal already passed by the Utah House of Representatives that would allow a doctor to be prosecuted on a class A misdemeanor if an abortion is performed solely because the fetus has Down syndrome.
Legislative attorneys have said there is a high likelihood the proposal, if passed into law, would be found unconstitutional.
Herbert said all life is sacred, emphasized he is pro-life and anti-Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Still, he noted he is concerned about the bill's constitutional viability and wants to continue to work with lawmakers.