Medical Marijuana Bill Delayed in Senate

MadsenOn Monday, Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) gave a spirited defense of his legislation designed to allow for the use of medical marijuana, however a tactical error may have prematurely ended any hopes of advancement for the legislation.

Madsen had requested what is known as a “time certain” for his bill, SB 259 – Medical Cannabis Amendments, meaning that debate on the bill had to take place in the Senate at the prescribed time. However, Madsen set the time certain at 3:30 – meaning that there would only be 30 minutes of debate before the body had to adjourn for scheduled committee time. Of that 30 minutes, Madsen took 20, leaving little time for debate on the hotly contested legislation – angering his fellow lawmakers in the process.

During his defense, Madsen attempted to alleviate the concerns that have already been raised, noting that an amendment had been prepared and published just minutes prior to the start of debate. Madsen had hoped the body would advance his legislation to a final round of debate, at which point the modification would be included as part of the legislation.

Madsen began by explaining that his bill “doesn’t force anyone to do anything,” telling the body that his legislation was designed to give options to willing physicians and willing patients who want to consider medical marijuana as a potential treatment. “It is only for those who want to explore that bit of freedom,” the conservative lawmaker would add.

Understanding that his legislation was controversial, Madsen would point to a recent Libertas Institute sponsored poll that showed that 72 percent of the public supported the idea of medical marijuana. Under his legislation, Utah would have the most strict regulations when it came to how a government regulated the process of providing the drug to patients; further emphasizing that his bill was far removed from states where legal recreational use of marijuana took place.

Currently, 23 other states, along with Washington D.C., allow for medical marijuana, while four allow for recreational use.

Madsen would acknowledge that recreational use was a legitimate concern when discussing marijuana policy, but he was quick to remind the body that “recreational use is going on right now, and that this bill doesn’t really touch on that issue – and whether [the bill] passes or not, there will be recreational use going on after the session,” adding that “the laws only constrains the law abiding in their choices… this bill is designed to help those who are law abiding but who need this medical assistance – we have put people into a very difficult decision with our policy.”

He would add that his bill would require that only trained professionals in specific fields would be able to prescribe medical marijuana and that only specific forms of disease would be treatable under the bill, noting that “…cancer, Alzheimer’s, MS, epilepsy, Crohn’s Disease [patients could be prescribed marijuana]. What we do is we limit the number of physicians… addressing some of the concerns that every physician is going to be setting up shop on the street corner. If you have cancer, we have identified that oncologists can prescribe – the specialty that treats you is the specialty that prescribes.”

Finally, Madson staunchly objected to the large fiscal note associated with the bill. “This program is self-sustaining – we don’t look for a subsidy from the general fund and we don’t look to fund any other operations of government out of those people who need the medicine. We will cover the costs, whatever they are, within the system.” He would go on to say that “we don’t fund the government by taxing medicine”

Due to the long introduction to the legislation, only Senator Evan Vickers (Republican, Cedar City) was able to ask questions of Madsen. The professional pharmacist and business owner grilled Madsen, wondering if the system could be gamed to allow for the medication to leak out onto the street. Madsen reminded Vickers that there would be “seed-to-sale tracking” of the drug and that formulas exist to properly track inputs and outputs, and that “[tracking is] there to avoid things leaking out the back door.”

Vickers was also concerned that the legislation did not possess any language preventing a prescribing physician from owning part or all of the production and distribution process, an issue Madsen acknowledged. He added that he was open to the idea of including an amendment to his legislation to detailing this prohibition.

Vickers would continue his interrogation by adding that, under SB 259, the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing would schedule inspection appointments of dispensaries, something that does not currently take place to date with traditional pharmacies in the state. The legislation lacked any sort of rules about zoning requirements for marijuana dispensaries, or assurances that laboratories would be independent of the prescription or distribution process.

Madsen stated that these provisions would be made available in the substitute bill prior to the bill leaving the Senate.

Not letting up, Vickers also noted that there was no information about daily supply availability and pharmacy shopping. Vickers closed his cross examination by telling the upper chamber that in other states that allow medical marijuana, less than three percent of holders have cancer, less than one percent have HIV/AIDS, while half of all card users have used methamphetamine, 75 percent have used cocaine, and most don’t have a history of life threatening illnesses.

Bumping up against time, Madsen tried to force a vote on the bill, hoping to answer any questions between Monday’s vote and when the bill came up for final passage – an action that upset many in the body; most notably Senator Todd Weiler (Republican – Woods Cross), who reminded the President pro tempore of the Senate, Aaron Osmond (Republican – South Jordan), that there was no motion to end debate on the bill. “I requested to speak, others have asked to speak – I absolutely object to this being voted on right now,” Weiler angrily stated.

Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund (Republican – Monroe), asked Madsen to instead circle the bill – an action that would halt discussion until a later, undetermined, time.

“With ten days left, I don’t know if I am going to win any votes, but I realize the tactic here, and I motion to circle it.” Madsen would say with defeat in his voice.

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