Lawmakers appeared to thaw the idea of medical marijuana Wednesday, when Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) spoke to the Health and Human Services Interim Committee Wednesday.
Madsen made waves this past legislative session when he introduced and advanced SB 259 – Medical Cannabis Amendments, which would have allowed specialists to prescribe marijuana to patients.
The bill died in the Senate as many on the Hill felt that the legislation was railroaded through the process during the final days of the session. After suffering that initial defeat, Madsen vowed that he would return during the off-season to hone the bill, present data, and get support from stakeholders.
The Utah County Republican would start by encouraging lawmakers to look into the recent history of marijuana being criminalized to guide the committee’s decisions.
Madsen may be referring to the fact that modern marijuana laws go hand-in-hand with anti-Mexican sentiment in the early 1900’s, when Mexican immigrants came to the country after the Mexican Revolution. Cannabis, the Latin phrase for the plant, was familiar to many American’s and often prescribed by doctors whereas marijuana was a cultural term used by immigrants. The choice by the government to use the phrase “marijuana” when attempting to ban the drug was seen as a way to take advantage of racist feelings permeating the country and pass the law. Some feel that the ban also came as a way to justify large police forces after prohibition had been overturned, knowing that the drug would be widespread among minority populations across the country.
Before ending his initial testimony, Madsen acknowledged that the legal and medical communities are divided on the issue of medical marijuana, but that the state should focus on being compassionate towards residents who might benefit from partial decriminalization of the drug. He also cautioned that the committee needs “to be meticulous about getting to the facts and not just listening to the soundbites.”
The committee also heard from Representative Gauge Froerer (Republican – Huntsville), who sponsored the state’s first medical marijuana type law with the passage of his bill that would allow children to take advantage of cannabinoid oils in an attempt to treat seizures. During his testimony, he told that body that he is constantly asked by constituents with medical conditions if Froerer’s law applies to them too.
At one point the debate became heated when Senate Committee Chair, Evan Vickers (Republican – Cedar City) questioned Madsen on his claim that one can not overdose and die on medical marijuana. Vickers responded that “such a high concentration, [states with medical marijuana] are seeing some serious side effects and serious deaths because of the concentration.”
“I would be very interested in seeing the studies that show that death was caused by the amount of substance in the bloodstream,” Madsen shot back.
Senator Brian Shiozawa (Republican – Salt Lake City), an emergency room doctor, took keen interest in Madsen’s statement that nearly 30 people in the state die each month due to prescription drug overdose.
“Key to this discussion as you weigh the pros and cons is the urgency…every day when I am at work, I look through the controlled substance database on patients and am appalled to see the number of prescriptions of controlled substances – and I have seen firsthand these deaths.” Shiozawa would add.
Ultimately Vickers, a pharmacist by trade, was cautious towards the entire discussion, but was willing to hear Madsen out – a promise struck during the session between the two lawmakers. Vickers went on to state that he expected the discussions to continue on for, at minimum, two more interim sessions between now and the start of the legislative session next year.