In what could be a game-changing scenario for the Utah legislature’s efforts to create a medical marijuana industry in the Beehive State, the National Governors Association (NGA) will make a request that the federal government reschedule and decriminalize marijuana when they convene later this month.
Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert now leads the association of what he has described as “a pretty exclusive club,” and has recently lent his own enthusiasm to the marijuana lawmaking process from a citizen level. If lawmakers in Utah adjust and vote for SB73- the Medical Cannabis Act, that might not be necessary.
To address what the NGA has termed “the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history,” the association has released a set of talking points titled, “Governors’ Priorities for Addressing the Nation’s Opioid Crisis” to offer the states’ recommendations on how Washington, D.C. can assist with improving education and awareness for health care providers, with expanding treatment access for addiction programs and with strengthening public safety response. Governor Herbert often refers to the states as “the real laboratories of democracy,” and routinely applauds the states’ efforts at innovation and leadership in the frontiers of policy and economics. He believes that this “bottom toward the top” leadership is crucial to the success of the nation.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (Republican), chair of the NGA Health and Human Services Committee said, “[In Massachusetts] we have invested more than $250 million and enacted several reforms in our multi-pronged approach to combating the opioid epidemic, but states need more tools to bend the trend of this public health crisis.” The national discussion about the acceptance of marijuana in analgesic applications by qualified physicians is advancing. Leading that effort, Baker went on to add, “These priorities highlight where we need immediate federal action to save lives and start to curb the epidemic.”
Utah presently has several efforts making their way through the state’s 2016 legislative season which adjourns on March 10: Senator Mark Madsen’s (Republican – Saratoga Springs) SB 73 – Medical Cannabis Act, allowing for “whole plant” derivatives including CBD + THC components; Senator Evan Vickers’ (Republican – Cedar City) SB 89 – Medical Cannabidiol Amendments, making CBD only more available in a processed form (which some advocates and pain sufferers indicate is insufficient for their needs); and Senator Brian Shiozawa’s (Republican – Salt Lake City) SCR 11 – Concurrent Resolution Urging the Rescheduling of Marijuana. Some believe that Dr. Shiozawa’s resolution attempts to position Utah as a leading crucible for research on the medical applications of the plant.
Half-way through Utah’s 45-day legislative session, radio veteran Tom Barberi addressed a number of SB 73 supporters and related his personal views on medical marijuana due to his recent diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis. He struggled to walk to the podium and was obviously in significant pain. “For me, the benefit of having a safe and effective painkiller, one that has never killed anyone as a result of overdose, is important. The worst thing that could happen is pizza addiction. I’ve been addicted to pizza since my first bite.”
When asked what he would want the Utah legislators to know about the effort to legalize the medicinal use of ingestible, “whole plant” remedies, Barberi said that it is “education that makes the difference. Once these people understand that we’re not speaking about recreational use, and that this is something that can actually save lives like mine, then we have a chance at a positive result in Utah.”
At the national level, the discussion is advancing too. “The heroin and opioid epidemic is an urgent public health and public safety crisis that affects people from all walks of life, taking tens of thousands of American lives each year,” said New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan (Democrat), vice chair of the Governors’ HHS committee. That alone should be a valid reason for Utah to allow the discussion to advance too.
The NGA will meet with President Obama to review their priorities on Monday, February 22. Several of the Utah bills will be heard during approximately the same week. Senator Madsen’s 02/18/2016 Audio Here