Two senators changed their votes by the time Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) presented his final summation on a medical cannabis bill he sponsored in the name of “freedom and compassion.”
SB 259 – Medical Cannabis Amendments went through many iterations before being defeated by just one vote, on a count of 15-14, late Monday night in the Utah Senate. Days earlier in the debate, Senator Peter Knudson (Republican – Brigham City) cited friends and family who have expressed the need for non-opioid prescriptive solutions including the natural drug while Senator Aaron Osmond (Republican – South Jordan), who voted yes both times in the Senate, stated that this issue had generated more concern in his district than any other this year.
Madsen had testified that he had personally sampled the substance under the direction of his doctor and without any undue concern about the danger posed by a drug currently banned by federal laws.
Utah lawmakers learned about cannabidiol or CBD oil, the heavy extract of cannabis which is non-psychoactive, is prescribed by legitimate physicians, and used in locations other than conservative Utah. The bill authorizing the distribution, possession, and use of CBD oil proceeded into law in March of 2014. As of June, the Utah Department of Health had issued 50 “patient cards” allowing those residents of the state to possess and consume the drug which some consider homoeopathic.
The matter took on a particularly poignant tone in the debate when several children were ushered into the Senate chamber, children who suffered with ailments like epilepsy, leukodystrophy and chemotherapy treatments. Parents of these children previously testified before lawmakers that their young lives would be better with access to medical cannabis treatments. In 2015, similar stories of adults who would benefit from the drug swayed many lawmakers, but not enough to jump the final hurdle in the Senate.
Science-based research involving normally used clinical trials and double blind testing is almost non-existent, even though anecdotal evidence abounds. This was a concern to Senator Brian Shiozawa, MD (Republican – Cottonwood Heights) who asked the current bill’s sponsor if adequate review had included psychiatrists and opthamologists. Shiozawa said that he was not necessarily averse to medical cannabis’s potential analgesic effects but that Madsen lacked adequate research findings as the bill was introduced in the state Senate.
Several lawmakers cited the relative rush behind Madsen’s legislation as the principal reason for their no vote. In particular, Senator Evan Vickers (Republican – Cedar City), a professional pharmacist, eviscerated the bill, bringing up points nearly line-by-line – a sign, Vickers implied, that the bill simply was not ready for publication.
Madsen told reporters during lunch prior to the final debate that he was committed to pressing forward with his current bill, which would allow for expanded use of the controversial plant in the months ahead, and he foreshadowed the potential for re-introducing the idea in the 2016 legislative session.
John Valentine, former Republican State Senator from Utah County, and current chairman of the Utah Tax Commission, testified to the Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee that the idea would run afoul of federal law. For that reason, businesses in other states which have legalized the substance have a difficult time moving money around as part of their business operations. With apparent clairvoyant foresight, some of Utah’s legislative business enablers and entrepreneurs have been lending their expertise on exactly that problem. The potential of federal law being rescinded may allow medicinal cannabis to find some acceptance in the months ahead.
But changes to the federal law may be coming soon. On Monday it was announced that U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (Democrat – New York), Rand Paul (Republican – Kentucky), and Cory Booker (Democrat – New Jersey) would be bringing a federal bill to the Senate as early as Tuesday to legalize the medicinal use of the alternative drug. If that were to happen, it would clear the way to allow financial transactions and tracking that presently are not allowed in the United States. In the Utah Senate, Senator Allen Christensen (Republican – North Ogden) expressed exactly those concerns, including the idea that concealed firearm permit holders might also apply for medical cannabis permits, creating an unwanted and unintended danger.