Fate of Utah medical marijuana plan unclear; Key vote postponed


SALT LAKE CITY — A key vote on a medical marijuana proposal opposed by the Mormon church has been pushed off until Monday after Utah’s Senate on Friday ran out of time debating the measure.

The proposal would allow tens of thousands of residents with certain chronic conditions to consume marijuana in edible forms and as an e-cigarette-style vapor but would ban smoking the drug in a cigarette form.

“It is not a bill that allows Dr. Feelgood to come and specialize in pot medicine,” said its sponsor, Republican Sen. Mark Madsen of Eagle Mountain.

The nearly hour-long debate Friday came two weeks after the Mormon church announced it opposed the measure out of fears it could lead to unintended consequences.

Supporters considered the faith’s position a heavy blow because the majority of Utah lawmakers are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Madsen acknowledged that Friday while hastily adding more restrictions to the plan as senators debated with the hope of assuaging their fears.

“I know some very powerful political special interests have been working against this bill. I also know that the people of this state understand this issue,” said Madsen, who is a Mormon. “I know that they’re inclined to take this into their own hands if we don’t do it right.”

Following the church’s statement, supporters of Madsen’s plan announced earlier this week that they will start working on a ballot initiative with the hope of bypassing the Legislature and instead allowing Utah voters to approve the idea.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Wood Cross, spoke favorably of Madsen’s plan Friday. Previously one of the chief critics of the plan, he said voters in his district support legalizing marijuana as a medical treatment and that he believed Madsen had improved his bill.

He and other lawmakers said they feared voters could approve a much broader proposal if the Legislature doesn’t act.

Madsen told The Associated Press that he feels more confident about its prospects for the Monday vote. He said some of the comments made by lawmakers indicated that the plan may get more ‘yes’ votes than anticipated.

He made an emotional and personal plea to his colleagues, citing his own struggle with chronic back pain and unintentional overdose on painkillers years ago. He has said that pain led him to try medical marijuana in Colorado last year, and he found it effective.

“Is it your role,” Madsen said, “to make the decision for me and my children as to what I can take into my body to best treat the conditions I’m struggling with in my life?”

Utah’s Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said the additional restrictions added to the proposal improved it but he’s still opposed to the plan. He said he doesn’t know if the bill will pass, but predicted that the vote Monday will be tight.

The plan would put Utah in line with more than 20 other states with medical marijuana programs, according to Madsen.

He introduced a similar proposal last year that failed to pass when lawmakers cited concerns it hadn’t been studied enough.

While senators pushed off a vote on Madsen’s bill, they voted 26-3 on Friday to give preliminary approval to a much more restrictive plan from two other Republicans. That measure would allow those with cancer, AIDS and similar conditions to use a cannabis extract that has very low levels of the plant’s psychoactive components.

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