50 States

50 States: Utah

By Jon Young

Medical: CBD oil only
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: No

In 2016, the police raided the home of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Weinholtz and seized his wife's stash of medical cannabis, which she used to treat pain from arthritis and a degenerative spinal condition. She ultimately received a fine and probation, and her husband gave a news conference calling for reform to the state's medical marijuana (MMJ) program. That's right, the arrest happened even though Utah supposedly had an MMJ program. 

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 few hundred 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.   

In 2015, Republican Senator Mark Madsen proposed a bill to expand the MMJ law that failed, and additional bills sponsored by Utah House Representative Brad Daw (R-Orem) and Senator Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City) followed in 2016. However, Senator Orrin Hatch has come out saying its "high time" to expand research into the medical benefits of the plant. The powerful and very conservative legislator—and former presidential primary candidate—has introduced the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017. 

"While I certainly do not support the use of marijuana for recreational purposes," the Republican senator said, "the evidence shows that cannabis possesses medicinal properties that can truly change people’s lives for the better.... Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration and quality of medical marijuana. All the while, the federal government strains to enforce regulations that sometimes do more harm than good. To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act."

Meanwhile, organizers are collecting signatures to get the Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative on the ballot for November 6, 2018. If passed, the ballot initiative would legalize medical cannabis for certain qualifying conditions. A 2017 poll showed that 73 percent of Utah residents support the initiative, with 49 percent saying they would "definitely" vote for it. 

Only 20 percent oppose it, and most of the opposition comes from the Mormon church. In fact, support for the initiative is slightly higher among Republicans than it is Mormons, and when Mormon respondents are excluded from the poll, support skyrockets to 90 percent! 

"Lawmakers across the country have wrestled with whether to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes," church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in the statement. "This discussion raises legitimate questions regarding the benefits and risks of legalizing a drug that has not gone through the well-established and rigorous process to prove its effectiveness and safety."

The Utah Medical Association also opposes the legalization of MMJ. The group even takes issue with calling marijuana "medical" since it thinks the health benefits have yet to be proven. 

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. Speaking with Deseret News a few years ago, 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."

Utah prohibited cannabis in 1915, making it the second state (behind California, if you can believe it) to do so. More than a century later, the Beehive State seems to be slowly coming around, at least in terms of medical research and use. 

Photo credit: Unsplash.

 

50 States: Kansas

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50 States: Iowa

50 States: Montana

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50 States: Illinois

50 States: Alaska

50 States: Washington, D.C.

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50 States Recap for 2016