Monday, March 7, 2016

Medical Marijuana Bills: One Passes, One Fails in House

House favors limited medical marijuana over comprehensive approach.

Posted By on March 7, 2016, 5:07 PM

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A House committee on Monday voted in favor of an extremely limited medical marijuana bill, while another bill that is considered more comprehensive was rejected.

House Bill 89, from Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, would provide access to low-THC cannibidiol to Utahns with certain illnesses.

“Is there value in treating patients with medical marijuana?” Sen. Vickers asked the committee hypothetically, “I believe so, yes. But we must avoid the perception by youth that marijuana use is OK. We want to treat qualified patients with reasonable levels of medical marijuana.”

Vickers’ bill has been seen as a more conservative alternative to the more comprehensive proposal by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, which would allow greater access to marijuana plants when prescribed by a doctor, including high-THC portions. The Vickers proposal would apply to a much small section of Utahns, who have particular illnesses.

Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, who is co-chair of the House Health and Human Services committee, said that while he is in favor of the incredibly strict regulations and restrictions within Vickers’ bill, he is also in favor of the proposals in Madsen’s bill that allows access to more of the plant. He successfully altered the bill to reflect those sentiments.

The committee voted 7-5 to pass Vickers’ bill, and it now moves on to the full House of Representatives.

Sen. Madsen’s proposal was not treated as kindly by the committee.

click to enlarge Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, presents his medical marijuana bill to the House Health and Human Services committee. - ERIC ETHINGTON
  • Eric Ethington
  • Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, presents his medical marijuana bill to the House Health and Human Services committee.
“My bill was written for patients. Not for physicians, regulators, or researchers,” Madsen told committee members. The Senator from Saratoga Springs, who has previously told the story of how he overdosed on prescription pain killers and has turned to marijuana for his chronic back issues, spent over half an hour walking committee members through his bill, SB73, which has far fewer regulations and restrictions than Vickers’.

Testifying in favor of Madsen’s proposal, one public commenter described how she had gotten in a car wreck when she was 10 years old, and since then developed a condition that causes extreme sensitivity in the skin, to the point where just wearing clothes is excruciating. “I’ve been through the expensive and difficult regimens of prescription pain killers, and they take care of about 85 percent of the pain. But they leave me foggy and unable to function, and with three children that just isn’t an option," she said. "But when I use marijuana, it takes care of 100 percent of my pain and I’m able to fully function."

Despite the emotional testimony, committee members were still reacting negatively, and Madsen gave one final plea. “My bill doesn’t require any physician to prescribe marijuana, any more than the current legality of a particular painkiller requires them to prescribe it," he said. "If you’re worried about marijuana being addictive, I would remind you that many of the opiates that are already legal are incredibly addictive."

“The biggest difference between my bill and [Vickers’] SB89?” Madsen added, “My bill doesn’t try to recreate three entire federal agencies within it.”

A motion by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, to pass the bill out favorably failed 8-4. However, before a vote could be taken on a motion by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, to officially kill the bill, Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, successfully moved to adjourn the meeting. That means that technically the bill could still come up once more for consideration before the end of the 2016 legislative session on Thursday night. 

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