Medical Marijuana Bill Advances on Tight Vote

MadsenIn a surprise to many, Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) was able to clear a major hurdle in his quest to make medical marijuana a reality in Utah.

His bill, SB 259 – Medical Cannabis Amendments, would allow those suffering from specific medical conditions to receive a prescription for cannibas from a specialist to treat a wide range of symptoms related to various diseases and treatments to those diseases.

Madsen started his presentation confidently, stating that he knows where his votes were – indeed, so confidant that he asked those supporting the bill not to stand during the debate in order to allow those objecting to speak their piece.

The Utah County Republican was quickly pounced upon by Senator Todd Weiler (Republican – Woods Cross), who honed in on the nearly two page legislative note that basically said that the bill ran counter to federal law and would most likely be overturned in a higher court.

“We would be joining with 23 other states that have sent a message to Washington saying ‘thank you very much, but we will take up the health care issues that pertain to our constitutions, ourselves – we are not going to let the federal government assert its control over those decisions.’ Frankly, I have never been prouder of a legislative note,” Madsen told the body.

Not letting up, Weiler asked what role the Department of Public Safety (DPS) would play in monitoring the implementation of the bill. Madsen explained that a private company would carry the torch on tracking the product, as well as the flow of money and creation of databases.

Weiler agreed that DPS would have to be integral to the success of the program, leading to his follow up: “What involvement has DPS had in the drafting of this bill?” Madsen admitted, with a slight chuckle, that he has not had “enough interaction [with DPS]… We will chase them down by the end of the week.”

“I think this is characteristic of my opposition to this bill. I am sympathetic to the needs of people in this state who are suffering, but I think that the devil is in the details,” said Weiler, adding that “DPS was not consulted until last night. This is a major, major policy shift… this is not how the Senate approaches a major policy shift.”

Weiler noted that the bill has moved rapidly through the legislative process, receiving a committee hearing less than a day before the bill became available, and that opposition has been continually stiffed during both committee and Senate floor time.

“The work has not been done, the foundation has not been made… this bill was kept secret and was hidden from the public,” Weiler concluded.

Senator Gene Davis (Democrat – Salt Lake City), applauded Madsen for presenting a bill rather than letting a referendum come from the public on the issue. By having the state take on the legislation, Davis feels that more control over the issue can be exercised by the state – going so far as to call it a “preemptive strike.”

Madsen, summing up prior to the vote, said that “if you can’t argue the substance – argue the process, and that is exactly what has happened,” reminding the body that he designating the bill as his top priority and pressed to bring the bill forward sooner than it actually did.

“I encourage you to support this based on the principals it is based on: freedom and compassion,” Madsen said, just prior to requesting a call of the Senate, wherein all lawmakers in that body have to be present for to vote on the bill – a move often used when it is known that the vote will be tight.

And Madsen wasn’t wrong. Several lawmakers would use the vote as an opportunity to weigh in prior to the tight vote.

“If we try to help the few, we will curse the many,” Senator Allen Christensen (Republican – North Ogden) warned the body, feeling that legalized marijuana in some cases will cause others to take up the drug illegally. “I can’t even believe we are talking about this in Utah.”

Senators Brian Shiozawa (Republican – Salt Lake City), Daniel Thatcher (Republican – West Valley City), and Kevin Van Tassell (Republican – Vernal), were all sympathetic to those in need, but would also rise in opposition to the bill, largely because of the unusually quick way it has worked through the legislative process.

Senators Peter Knudson (Republican – Brigham City) and Karen Mayne (Democrat – West Valley City) both conveyed personal stories of loved ones who had suffered from various medical ailments that could have been alleviated through the use of medical marijuana prior to voting yes on the bill.

In the end, however, Madsen was able to get the votes he needed to advance the legislation. The bill advanced on a 16-13 vote and will now have a final vote in the Senate.

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