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Utah State Legislature ‘carefully’ begins exploring medical marijuana bills

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Posted at 3:57 PM, May 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-20 23:44:59-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- State lawmakers have begun exploring whether medical marijuana should be legalized in Utah, laying the groundwork for a series of hearings on the topic.

"Our plan is to vet this thing completely," said Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, the chairman of the Utah State Legislature's Interim Health and Human Services Committee.

Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, is bringing back his bill that would legalize medical marijuana for people with serious medical conditions like cancer, AIDS, MS, and epilepsy. The bill narrowly died in the Senate last year, and recently Governor Herbert has expressed some support for discussing the topic.

Speaking to the committee on Wednesday, Madsen urged his fellow lawmakers to avoid getting caught up in "Reefer Madness."

"Push past generations of propaganda and misleading information and get to the reality about this substance," he said.

Madsen got support from Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, who sponsored a bill that allowed for hemp extract oil to be allowed in Utah for children who suffer from epilepsy. Other members of the committee were apprehensive, but willing to hold hearings on medical cannabis.

"I think we do need to proceed carefully," Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo said.

Lawmakers said they wanted testimony from law enforcement and scientists. Madsen said he also wanted the committee to hear from patients who would benefit from medical marijuana (the senator himself has acknowledged trying cannabis products -- twice now -- for treatment of back pain).

"The debate is fraught with fear mongering and misrepresentation," Madsen told the committee.

Sen. Vickers challenged some of Madsen's assertions about cannabis, claiming that in other states there were cannabis oils with "such a high concentration, they are seeing some serious side effects and serious deaths with those."

Madsen fired back asking for his evidence.

"I would be very interested in seeing the studies that show that death was caused by the amount of substance in the bloodstream," he said.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Salt Lake City, chimed in that he had heard from emergency room doctors in other states who had seen an increase in children who had accidentally ingested cannabis products.

"I’m not sure it’s quite the panacea that we’re hearing, either," he said. "Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t explore it."

Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, expressed concerns about medical marijuana and told FOX 13 he planned to run his own legislation that would allow for "compassionate use," but would be much more restrictive than what Sen. Madsen is proposing.

"If we’re talking medical cannabis like they have in Colorado, Michigan, California, those other states? That’s a step too far for me," he said. "I'm going to try to err on the side of caution."