The Senate gallery erupted in cheers and applause Thursday as the Senate voted 17-12 to approve a bill that legalizes cannabis for medicinal purposes in the state of Utah.
Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs), sponsor of SB 73 – Medical Cannabis Act, urged lawmakers to support his bill.
“We can’t always take away freedoms from those who do right and don’t want to break the law and don’t want to abuse things because a few will. That principle is a principle that we’ve applied to many other issues up here. I hope that we will act today not out of fear, but out of hope and out of compassion and out of a belief that people do have the right to make decisions about their own care and the government doesn’t always get it right,” said Madsen.
To satisfy critics, Madsen made a number of amendments to his bill in the past several days. Items removed included language that would have allowed for access to the bud of the marijuana plant and erased language that would have prevented cities from blocking the grow facilities and dispensaries through zoning ordinances. Workplace protections for legal medical marijuana users who are public employees were done away with as well.
Language was added requiring the products to be labeled and sealed in child-proof containers. Another language addition is aimed at keeping dispensaries and grow facilities from being located within 1,000 feet of schools and 600 feet of churches.
Earlier this month, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement opposing the bill due to their fear that legalizing marijuana might have “unintended consequences.” On Monday, the Salt Lake City-based faith released another statement calling the amended bill a “substantial improvement.”
Senator Brian Shiozawa (Republican – Cottonwood Heights) urged the body to move with caution. “If adopted, we’re going to be dealing with the unintended and intended consequences. It’s a very sobering issue.”
Senator Jerry Stevenson (Republican – Layton) spoke of friends who had returned from the Vietnam War with a marijuana addiction and also related interactions with prison inmates who were in on narcotics charges and had used the drug. “I look back over 50 years of what I’ve seen of this product and I am not impressed,” said Stevenson. “I’m actually afraid of this. I will be a ‘no’ vote. I think we’re going way too fast with this.”
Senator Allen Christensen (Republican – North Ogden) said that helping 1 person who really needs access to medical marijuana out of 100 is not worth endangering the 99 others who might become addicted to the drug.
“That’s fine and we’re all taught to do that. But you don’t abandon the 99, and I will not have those 99 people whom I’m abandoning on my conscience because I’m leaving them to their own resources to try to avoid the evils of marijuana in their lives,” said Christensen.
The bill now heads to the House, where it will be carried by Representative Gage Froerer (Republican – Huntsville). The bill will no doubt face an uphill battle for the remaining two weeks of the session. If the bill is unsuccessful supporters of the measure have threatened to campaign to place the issue on the ballot if SB 73 doesn’t pass.