Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) surprised everyone last year when he introduced SB 259 – Medical Cannabis Amendments with just days before the end of the legislative session. That legislation, Madsen conceded, was rushed through the process and missed many key provisions necessary when making such a dramatic policy shift for the state. Despite its many flaws, the bill advanced relatively far in the process, failing in the Senate by a single vote.
[pullquote]No doubt, Senator Madsen’s SB 73 will be one of the most watched pieces of legislation this session. The citizens appear ready, but are lawmakers?[/pullquote]Or was it such a dramatic proposal? The state has a strong Libertarian leanings and, on the whole, has an anti-federal government flair to it. Many recognize that otherwise good citizens are filling our jails because of marijuana convictions while those who overdose on opioids fill our cemeteries. Furthermore, the success of multi-level marketing organizations that peddle in essential oils, herbal treatments, and “specially crafted” juices show that the citizens of the state are at least willing to include treatments that don’t just originate from traditional pharmaceutical companies.
Once SB 259 was officially dead, Madsen vowed to work on a more comprehensive piece of legislation during the interim and make medical marijuana a reality in the Beehive state.
After a year’s worth of work, Madsen has prepared and presented SB 73 – Medical Cannabis Act – and it is clear that he has done his homework. The summary alone is two pages long and the bill itself is a whopping 61 pages in length (compared to 2015’s half-page summary and 24 pages in total length).
Obviously, there is quite a bit to digest with SB 73 – but here are the basics: SB 73 would allow the use of any part of the cannabis plant to be used as part of an overall treatment for individuals with a qualifying illness (AIDS, Alzheimers, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Cancer, Cachexia, conditions that include physical wasting, nausea, or malnutrition, Chron’s Disease or similar disorder, Epilepsy or similar condition, Multiple Sclerosis or similar condition, PTSD, and/or chronic pain). Patients prescribed medical cannabis would receive a medical cannabis card from the Department of Health and could only purchase cannabis from a licensed cannabis dispensary.
Cannabis dispensary’s will receive their cannabis from independent cannabis growers. These growers, in turn, will have their product processed by an independent processing facility whose product, in turn, is inspected by an independent testing facility to ensure that the product being sold meets acceptable quality levels for the product. The Department of Agriculture and Food will issue cultivation, processing, and testing licenses while dispensary’s receive an operating license from the Department of Health.
The bill also expressly prohibits a city or town enacting zoning ordinances that prohibit cannabis production simply because the facility grows the drug – all agricultural, industrial, or manufacturing zones are fair game. The same goes for suppliers – an agricultural, industrial, or commercial zone could feature dispensaries.
There is much more to the bill – fines for violations, protections for citizens, taxation and funding – but the outcome is obvious. If successful, Utah would become the 24th state to have some version of medical marijuana on the books. As Madsen likes to point out, Utah has the advantage of not being the first state out of the gate to tackle the subject, and the crafting that has gone into his bill shows that Utah has learned from the mistakes and successes of the states that have come before us.
In many ways, SB 73 is Madsen’s swan song. Madsen does not intend to run for office this year and, if successful, SB 73 could be one of the biggest policy shifts to come out of the 2016 session.
Though there will no doubt be hiccups during the creation and implementation stage, legalization of medical marijuana has not proven to be the boogyman some have predicted. What it has done is help many find an alternative treatment to very real diseases. Should further study be done on the effectiveness of marijuana in the treatment of various conditions? Of course. But the story of marijuana dates back nearly to the dawn of humanity itself, and the perceived dangers associated with the plant grew largely out of fear based politics in the 1920’s, not because of legitimate medical concerns.
The state of Utah owes it to its citizens to provide the safest possible treatment for medical conditions, and if that means opening up the use of a particular drug, policymakers shouldn’t shy away from allowing the drug because of outdated perceptions.
To contact Senator Madsen, click here or call 801-360-9389 (Cell).
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