50 States

50 States: Utah

By Jon Young

Medical: CBD oil only
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: No

Medical marijuana (MMJ) has been legal in Utah since March 2014. That is, legal only as a non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) extract. And if you don’t grow your own plants or buy it in Utah. And if you have a severe form of epilepsy. Basically, medical marijuana is legal in Utah for the 500 or so registered patients if they are lucky enough to have a magical being appear from thin air with a ready-made vial of tetrahydrocannabinol-free CBD oil. Otherwise, one must break state and federal trafficking laws to procure the oil that they could then “legally” consume in their state.

These types of half-measure laws make no sense. It is as if state lawmakers were in the middle of session and decided to wrap it up for dinner time before the rest of the bill was passed.   

Following a failed attempt last year by Republican Senator Mark Madsen to expand the MMJ law, two more bills are up for debate in the 2016 legislative session. One of them, sponsored by Utah House Representative Brad Daw (R-Orem) and Senator Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City), would add qualifying conditions like cancer, HIV/AIDS and chronic pain while still banning the use of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The bill would also have a sunset clause based on whether certain physicians found the CBD-oil to be effective.

"We feel like this is the prudent manner that to allow for patients to be treated with a component of marijuana that can be considered medicinal," said Senator Vickers, rather incoherently, per Fox 13 Salt Lake City.

The other bill, sponsored again by Sen. Madsen, would allow for the use of the whole plant, including THC, in the treatment of a similar list of ailments. Much less limited in scope than the Daw and Vickers bill, Madsen’s would address a number of unresolved issues for patients. But… “Their bill exists to derail mine,” Sen. Madsen told the Utah Political Capitol, referring to Daw and Vickers’ much weaker bill.

While support for MMJ in Utah is around 61 percent (according to a poll by Dan Jones & Associates), the Mormon population is divided with 48 percent of active Mormons for MMJ and 50 percent against it. Madsen, an active Mormon himself, hopes his bill survives his church.  

“I hope that the LDS Church doesn’t undermine my bill,” the Senator said. “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.”

According to the same poll, Catholics were the religious group most likely to support MMJ with 82 percent in favor, followed by 65 percent of Protestants. Interestingly, older Utahns were more likely to support MMJ than younger residents. This likely stems from a longer history of health problems that medical cannabis could help address, according to Utah Policy.

For those suffering from chronic illness and pain—like Jessica Gleim, a 32-year-old who treats her chronic pain with prescription drugs that produce fatigue and other side effects–MMJ is another tool to treat her symptoms.

"I’m asking for the decision to use medical cannabis to treat my very rare disorder to be a decision I make, with my physicians, who are experts on my condition and my health," Gleim said, per Fox 13. "I am asking our state representatives to include all of us suffering in pain to be in a medical cannabis program here in Utah."

Currently, the Utah Medical Association opposes legalization of MMJ until more research shows its efficacy in treating different symptoms and illnesses.

"It would be unwise to begin using medical cannabis without real clinical and empirical evidence for beneficial use of a potentially harmful drug," former association president Dr. B. Dee Allred said in a statement, according to the Deseret News, echoing the American Medical Association’s similar stance on cannabis.

Dr. Lynn Weber, a former pain-management clinician in Salt Lake City, said he agrees that more research is needed, but studies in other countries have shown big benefits and few risks. In the same Deseret News, the doctor said, “The truth is, we don't always know how most medicines are going to work with patients until we prescribe it to them. I want the science to help me determine what's best for my patients, but sometimes you have to step back and take a look at (how) today we don't have good treatment options. We can't let these people suffer."

While support is high for a workable MMJ program in Utah, it may be a few years before patients have the access they need, but at least they seem to be headed in the right direction.

 

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