Utah could let terminally ill patients try medical marijuana — and grow the weed for them

Posted at 5:23 PM, Jan 31, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY -- A legislative committee has endorsed a pair of bills that would give terminally ill patients a "right to try" medical marijuana in Utah, and also have the state grow their weed for them.

The House Health and Human Services Committee approved House Bill 195 and House Bill 197, both sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem.

"This is a very small toe in the water" of medical marijuana legislation, he acknowledged during the Wednesday hearing.

HB195 allows terminally ill patients the ability to get a physician's recommendation for medical cannabis.

"Chemo just isn’t a lot of fun," Rep. Daw told the committee. "You know, some patient may just say, 'I don’t want to do chemo.' They may do something else."

The bill would set a limit of 15 patients per doctor who can recommend medical cannabis. That stirred a little debate among medical marijuana advocates who wanted to expand it and others who wanted tight controls.

HB197 has the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food grow marijuana for research and distribution to those patients. The idea of the state growing its own marijuana sparked some concern from lawmakers who feared the federal government could go after the state.

"I have heard disconcerting comments from our U.S. attorney general related to how he feels about legislation like this, and I have to tell you it gives me pause," said Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City.

Public comment on both bills was mixed. The Utah Medical Association said it supports the concept of the legislation, but had questions about the practical aspects. The conservative Sutherland Institute endorsed the bills, while TRUCE (Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education) had problems with the bills.

"We are opposed to this principle, this fundamental principle of violating federal law," Ogden Police Chief Randy Watt testified. "We think we’re duty bound, morally to respect federal law. We think this action would be akin to if my municipality didn’t want to follow state law from the legislature."

Overshadowing the bills is a voter initiative that would allow medical marijuana in Utah. TRUCE and the Utah Patients Coalition have criticized Rep. Daw's legislation as not going far enough and covering enough people.

"Daw’s bills are cannabis theatre," DJ Schanz of the Utah Patients Coalition said. "While they give an illusion of moving the ball forward, they do little to nothing to give patients access and respite. As the chief Prohibitionist on the hill, Representative Daw’s crocodile tear filled attempts at legislation the 11th hour are nothing more than parlor tricks meant to undermine the meaningful reforms and patient access the Ballot Initiative will give."

Schanz told FOX 13 the ballot initiative had gathered 105,000 signatures as of Wednesday. They need 113,000 to qualify for the November ballot. April is the deadline to submit those signatures.