Mormons and Medical Marijuana: Utah’s Plan to Study Pot Goes Forward

Photo by Nico Escondido

Utah is a weird place. Coffee and alcohol are hard to come by, but in a state where politicians measure each other in shades of conservative, more and more Republicans are pushing for access to medical marijuana.

Utah lawmakers pushed hard to legalize medical marijuana this year, but a combination of uncertainty over what President Donald Trump’s administration planned to do and plain, old delay-and-obstruct tactics delayed the issue. But things are moving forward again after a plan to spend this year “studying” medical marijuana advanced to Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk for his signature.

And its only opponents are some of the state’s lone Democrats, who say that the plan is an unnecessary delay tactic—and that more than enough to justify legalizing medical cannabis is already known.

As the Salt Lake City Tribune reports, House Bill 130 “permits the study of cannabinoid products for medical use” and creates a “review board” that will recommend future policy.

The bill seems likely to be signed into law by the governor, who pushed for the delay-and-research maneuver and later voiced support for legal weed (right around the time the latest polls showing overwhelming coast-to-coast support for medical cannabis came out).

“I’m open to the idea of medical marijuana and the discussion of how it can be used as medicine,” Herbert told reporters during a recent press conference.

We’ll find out if he means it if and when he signs the bill—and if he doesn’t, expect it to be used against him politically, by other Republicans. Herbert’s challenger contesting his reelection last year, another Republican who compelled Herbert to declare himself the “most conservative” person he knew, hit Herbert for his past obstructionism on legal weed for sick people.

But the bill may have a catch. As per the Salt Lake Tribune:

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, the Senate sponsor of the bill and a pharmacist, said review would be rigorous and would use standards similar to those used by the federal Food and Drug Administration.”

If this is to be taken literally, such a review is… impossible.

Cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance. Schedule I controlled substances can’t be prescribed as drugs, which is why pharmaceuticals go through the FDA process in the first place.

This is one reason why Sen. Jim Dabakis, a Democrat from Salt Lake City and the only vote against the bill, declared the bill a “Trojan horse” that gives the “appearance of action” while sick people are forced to suffer and wait.

As the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine put it in their landmark review of existing science on medical marijuana, “specific regulatory barriers, including the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance, impede the advancement of research.”

That said, those researchers still found “conclusive evidence” that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting, and “significant evidence” that cannabis can treat pain.

If Utah is serious about its plan to research cannabis, it won’t have to go far or look very hard to find all the evidence it needs to start putting marijuana—in some form—in the hands of sick people.

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