Medical marijuana policy not advancing in Utah legislature, ballot initiative likely

Posted at 11:39 AM, Jan 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-27 23:47:23-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- State lawmakers dealt a blow to hopes of medical marijuana becoming accessible in Utah, announcing they would not pursue legislation that sets policy.

In response, supporters of medical cannabis told FOX 13 they would move ahead with a 2018 ballot initiative to put the issue in the hands of voters.

At a news conference Friday, House and Senate lawmakers working on the bills said uncertainty about President Donald Trump's stance on medical marijuana has led them to back off on legislation allowing for it to happen.

WATCH the news conference on medical marijuana bills here

"Knowing what the political climate is, knowing what the political landscape is here in the state of Utah, looking at the stakeholders interests are and looking at trying to make some progress, I felt my particular bill, it's not in my interest to move forward with a policy decision at this time with my bill," said Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville.

Instead, lawmakers will propose smaller bills that allow for research and lay the groundwork for infrastructure (allowing for dispensaries, growers, etc.) for future legislative sessions to address whether to allow medical marijuana. Advocates for cannabis use have argued that it could treat a number of patient conditions from cancer to seizures.

"If it's medicine, let's treat it like medicine," Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said of the need to continue to research medical cannabis.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Salt Lake City, called for the federal government to classify marijuana as a Schedule II drug so it can be properly researched. Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, said he wanted research to go forward before policy because of a concern of a "slippery slope" to recreational marijuana.

Still, Rep. Daw acknowledged that the Utah State Legislature may have provoked a ballot initiative by not taking action on the issue.

"That clearly is on the horizon," he said, but defended the need for careful research.

Supporters of medical cannabis were disappointed.

"They only wanted to do regulatory framework and taxpayer-funded research that's unnecessary. This still continues the victimization of patients," said Christine Stenquist with Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education.

Connor Boyack of the libertarian-leaning Libertas Institute told FOX 13 plans to gather signatures and get medical marijuana on the 2018 ballot were moving forward.

"They're unwilling to listen, the legislature isn't going to act it's time for the people to act and we need a ballot initiative on this," he said.