Utah lawmakers know how to do this — they know how to strike a compassionate compromise.
They proved it in March when they passed a bill protecting lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals from discrimination in housing and employment, yet still defending religious freedom.
If they can do that, they can legalize medical marijuana.
A medical marijuana bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen — SB259 — came within one vote of passing the Senate in March. Christine Stenquist, a Kaysville mother of four, worked closely with Madsen on the bill.
“If anything, we got the conversation started in this state. They’re talking about it on a real level and that’s something,” Stenquist told Cathy McKitrick, a reporter for the Standard-Examiner.
Stenquist desperately needs the conversation to succeed; she vaporizes marijuana to control the chronic migraines, nausea and muscle spasms resulting from surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.
Prescription opioids, muscle relaxants, anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants and anticonvulsants incapacitated Stenquist for years before she turned to cannabis. But in Utah, she’s forced to make a choice — either suffer or break the law.
No one should be forced to choose between the law and her health.
That’s not how one area lawmaker sees it, however. Sen. Todd Weiler, a Woods Cross Republican, voted against SB259 because he doesn’t want to violate federal law.
“If there’s a responsible way to help people in pain, I support that. But we should not be asking our sworn law enforcement officers to choose between state and federal law,” Weiler said.
Utah lawmakers genetically oppose federal interference in state business, so Weiler’s argument rings hollow. Besides, 23 states already authorize the use of medical marijuana with tacit approval from Washington; if anything, approving a bill similar to SB259 would add to the pressure on Congress to downgrade marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug.
Madsen is drafting a new version of SB259 that closes loopholes, permits vaporizing, topicals and edibles, prohibits smoking and limits the number of dispensaries. The bill calls for access entire plants, while a second bill, sponsored by Rep. Bradley Daw, R-Orem, and Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, focuses exclusively on cannabidiol oil.
To Stenquist, the Vickers-Daw bill doesn’t go far enough.
“There are a lot of patients we’re losing in this state to opiate overdoses due to chronic pain,” Stenquist told McKitrick. “If we don’t have a comprehensive bill that includes a full cannabinoid profile — CBD, THC and the other cannabinoids — we’re not doing anything to help patients.”
The Drug Policy Project of Utah doesn’t like either bill, for a variety of reasons. If the group can’t significantly loosen restrictions in Madsen or Vickers-Daw, leaders say they’ll push for a statewide referendum in 2018.
They may want to reconsider. A ballot initiative is a crapshoot, and Madsen’s bill holds out the promise of relief to thousands of Utahns like Stenquist.
Stenquist should not be forced to choose between the law and her health. No one should.
Utah lawmakers can strike a compassionate compromise by approving medical marijuana.