Utah Senate gives tentative approval to medical marijuana bill

Posted at 4:06 PM, Feb 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-23 08:59:07-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- In a narrow vote, the Utah State Senate approved a bill that would clear the way for medical marijuana in Utah.

The Senate voted 15-13 to pass Senate Bill 73, which allows qualifying medical patients to use marijuana in edible, extract and oil form to treat ailments. SB73 faces one more vote in the Senate, which could happen as early as Wednesday. The Senate voted 18-8 to pass Senate Bill 89, a competing bill that would allow for an extract to treat medical conditions. That bill now goes to the House for consideration.

In emotional remarks, SB73 sponsor Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, pleaded with his colleagues to pass the bill -- naming patients who were hoping to use medical marijuana to treat their pain.

"I don't want to let them down. Please help Doug and Ashley and Adam and Carter, please help hundreds of patients who anxiously await our action today. Don't let them down!" he cried.

Madsen watered down his bill after opposition from Senate colleagues and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On Monday, the LDS Church softened its opposition to SB73, but still didn't give its blessing to the legislation.

Senators were divided on the bill.

"I encourage my colleagues to stand up for the many people who are desperate," said Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City.

Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, pressed Madsen on dosages and expressed concern for youth.

"To say there is no harm? Is not true. It's just not. It simply isn't true," she said.

Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, said there was a lot of unknowns about the bill's potential consequences, but said the best one to make the decision was a doctor working with a patient. Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, said he would vote no on it.

"There exists absolute evidence that whole plant marijuana cures everything from ingrown toenails to cancer. Of course, all of this evidence is anectodal. Nothing is scientifically proven," he said.

With such a close vote on SB73, backers of medical marijuana said they were planning to push ahead with a ballot initiative, taking it out of the hands of lawmakers and putting it before voters.

"It's looking like we may have to," said Christine Stenquist, a medical marijuana patient and supporter of the ballot initiative. "Because we're not getting much of our voices heard right now."

Meanwhile, Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, was asked if his SB89 could combine with Sen. Madsen's SB73.

"Could we ever merge them? In theory, yes. It's true. In practicality? I'm not sure," he said.