Lawmaker emphasizes church, liberty in medical pot video

(Drug Policy Project of Utah)

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — After a failed first attempt to pass a medical marijuana law in conservative Utah, a Republican state senator is renewing his push for the bill in an online video where he invokes individual liberty, limited government and the memory of his grandfather, former Mormon church president Ezra Taft Benson.

"He was a great mentor and taught me about individual liberty and individual accountability and the principles that underlie the proper role of government," state Sen. Mark Madsen says in the video.

The video is part of a series of eight put together by the Drug Policy Project of Utah, one of the advocacy groups working to build support for a medical marijuana program with the hope of passing it during the 2016 legislative session.

In the seven-minute film, Madsen and his wife discuss the Eagle Mountain lawmaker's history of back pain and evolving perspective on the use of marijuana to treat chronic medical conditions.

Madsen, who has served in the state Legislature for a decade, introduced a bill earlier this year that would have allowed those with chronic and debilitating diseases to consume marijuana-infused products such as brownies, candy and lozenges. The legislation would have forbidden the smoking of marijuana.

The measure died on a 15-14 vote in March, with his fellow senators citing concerns about unintended consequences and worries that it would lead to more recreational consumption.

Three additional videos have been released in the series. They feature other Utah residents with chronic conditions, including a devout Mormon mother of five children who has Hodgkin's Lymphoma and a Salt Lake City father from a born-again Christian family who was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Madsen did not return messages seeking comment about the video. Turner C. Bitton, the board chairman of the Drug Policy Project, said the stress on religious values helps people feel comfortable with those seeking relief through marijuana.

"There's issues of morality that come up, especially with legalizing medical cannabis, Bitton said.

More than 60 percent of Utah residents are members of the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Mormon church doesn't take a clear stance on medical marijuana, but church officials have said its guidelines discourage the use of "ethically or legally questionable health practices."

Bitton said lay leaders have told his group that if the drug is treated and dispensed as a medication, the church generally respects that.

In addition to his religious ties and political views, Madsen in the video describes his struggle with chronic back pain and a prescription drug overdose in 2007. Madsen said he was wearing a patch with the painkiller fentanyl when it burst and spilled its reservoir of the drug. Madsen had to be rushed to the hospital for treatment.

He said doctors later recommended that he consider marijuana. Earlier this year, Madsen said he traveled to Colorado to try cannabis-infused gummy bears and an electronic-cigarette device.

He said he found the treatment effective and would consider using it again if recommended by his doctor.

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