At year’s end, Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) addressed a friendly crowd of supporters to tell them about his most recent effort at bringing non-combustible, medical marijuana to the Beehive State —presently with the unnumbered and yet-to-be introduced Medical Cannabis Act.
During the 2015 legislative session, Madsen stunned some of his colleagues in the Utah Senate by announcing that over the Valentine’s Day weekend he had traveled to Colorado on the advice of his physician and had consumed some “cannabis edibles” to relieve chronic lower back pain. The bill, SB 259 – Medical Cannabis Amendments (and it’s four substitutions), sponsored last year by Madsen, prompted discussions by Utah legislators revealing a wide range of tolerance about the concept. As with the national discussion, Utah’s debate emphasized social concerns on opioid side effects and the dangers of addiction with traditional prescription pain medication.
In 2014, Utah authorized the use of cannabinoid oil for patients with epilepsy and similar ailments, causing some conservative lawmakers to worry aloud about the expanded use of medical cannabis. Last session, Senator Allen Christensen (Republican – Ogden) declared on the chamber floor that, “I can’t believe that we are even discussing this in Utah.” This, amidst other concerns that last year’s bill had been “rushed through” the legislative process without enough deliberative consideration and sufficient data. This would ultimately lead to SB 259’s demise.
Madsen’s previous effort failed narrowly on the last day of the 2015 session and he vowed to bring it up again during the 2016 session (which will also be his last as a legislator, since he has declared that he will not seek office again), with additional considerations to make the idea more workable.
“We feel that we have addressed all of [the legislature’s] legitimate concerns,” said Madsen to a group of 50, mostly young, advocates, recorded during the Paul Duane Show (soon to be known as the “Big Top Rebellion”) podcast.
In 2015, the U.S. Senate introduced legislation that would allow federal laws to be relaxed for the sake of “whole plant” derivatives used for treating people “who are suffering,” said Madsen, “…and who cannot wait. Our bill uses the ‘F4 standard,’ found in pharmaceutical code language. We are working in a box that federal law allows us to work in,” he explained.
There is a competing bill that also will be introduced into committee in January, sponsored by Utah House Representative Brad Daw (Republican – Orem) and Senator Evan Vickers (Republican – Cedar City) which some have termed exceedingly limited in scope, and allegedly does not address specific patient issues that Madsen’s bill does. “Their bill exists to derail mine,” said Madsen flatly.
As an active Mormon himself, Madsen – a grandson of former LDS Church President, and US Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson, stated, “I hope that the LDS Church doesn’t undermine my bill. I would hate it if the faithful LDS people of Utah were treated any differently than those of 23 other states which now have similar laws… You can be of good faith and realize that you have been propagandized all of your life.” He continues to maintain that his proposal would not create “head shops” or a recreational drug use culture in Utah as many of his opponents claim.
The soon-to-be published bill will allow for cannabis applications in topical (ointment), edible (his first experience was with cannabis gummy bears produced in Colorado) and vapor delivery, “The [vape] smell is invisible,” says Madsen. Under his new bill, a limited number of family practitioner physicians would be authorized to prescribe medical cannabis, with an unlimited number of specialists (oncologists, orthopedists, psychiatrists, etc.) trained and specifically licensed by the Utah Department of Health —to allow a consumer to also obtain a “safe harbor” card for personal possession and use. This would be similar to the previously permitted users of cannabis oil (of which there are approximately 500 Utahns).
Under Madsen’s Medical Cannibas Act of 2016, production of the “whole plant” used for Utah’s medicinal applications will be done only intrastate and under the supervising standards and licensure of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Producers would be required to demonstrate a competent business plan and liquid assets of $300,000 or more. Dispensaries also would be privately owned but would have to also show liquid assets of $500,000 and would be limited to one in each county in the state – with more in Salt Lake, Utah and Weber Counties which evidence greater populations.