WEBER COUNTY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Weber State University students light up a conversation on medical marijuana by inviting a panel of legislators to discuss the topic in an open forum held at the Shepherd Union Fireplace Lounge.
The event, put on by the Weber State College Republicans and the Weber State Democrats, and sponsored by the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service, brought a panel of four legislators: Representatives Gage Froerer (R-Huntsville), Edward Redd (R-Logan), Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D-Salt Lake City), and Paul Ray (R-Clearfield) to the campus to discuss the potential benefits and disadvantages of medical marijuana in Utah.
“To be able to bring college Republicans and Democrats together for a discussion on policy and health implications and look at that as a whole, that’s a great thing,” said Weber State College Republicans President, Dallin Cottle.
The majority of those who attended this packed session said they believe there are several benefits to medical marijuana. While some on the panel agreed with that sentiment and believe those with chronic illnesses would benefit there are still several reservations regarding the passage of such a law; the safe distribution of it, the criminal justice aspect, and concerns for public safety were among the top three.
Several students and members of the public had the opportunity to ask the panel questions on the topic. Many, with chronic medical conditions shared their stories with the panel. Among those was Eric who has been using medical marijuana. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at 30, he’s tried several pain medications, but marijuana was the only thing he said was able to make his pain tolerable and get him out of a wheelchair.
“It was recommended to me and I’ve tried all the other MS treatments with disastrous results,” he said.
Legislators worry about the addiction factor of the drug. The addiction factor is why some legislators have said the penalties for someone who is caught with medical marijuana have been lowered. They say those people benefit more from getting treatment for their addiction than being locked up in a jail cell.
The addiction factor, the panel said, is also why such a law would raise concerns for public safety. They say they’re concerned by someone using medical marijuana and getting behind the wheel of a car or operating heavy machinery. They’re also concerned about it getting into the wrong hands.
Eric says those who need and medical marijuana are responsible users. He like some in the group ask people to break away from the stereotypes that surround marijuana. He hopes they will try to understand the difference between medical and recreational marijuana and to not confuse the two.
The panel also raised the concern for protecting physicians. While they can recommend the drug, they can’t prescribe it and should a law be passed, physicians careers could still be at risk.
“Even if we pass the law, doctors can’t legally prescribe it because it’s against federal law,” says Rep. Ray.
Eric adds that there are ways to get such a law passed and offered up a suggestion on how it could be regulated.
“Have it go through a state board,” he said. “Only a state board can approve it. Your doctor can recommend you, but then you have to go to the board to be approved.”
He also suggested having it regulated by the DABC.
The Weber State Republicans and Democrats felt it was important to bring this issue to the college because it is a hot button issue, one they expect to see brought up in the next legislative session. They also hoped by bringing the public closer to policy makers it would fire them up to get more involved in the political process. For a generation and population that has been so disenfranchised by politics, they hope by showing people how easily accessible representatives are, that people will be more motivated to join in on the conversation and continue the dialog all the way to the Capitol. It was also a way for students to learn about all the legislation being considered on this topic.
“I think all the options were brought up. Madsen’s bill was brought up, Daw-Vickers bill was brought up, those are all important bills in Utah, but they differ in their own respects,” said Weber State Democrats President, Jessica Hastings.
In 2014, a bill that allowed individuals suffering from epilepsy to use CBD oils – certified to do so by their neurologists – was signed into law. In 2015, state Sen. Mark Madsen introduced Senate Bill 259, a bill that would have created a comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state. That bill died by just one vote on the Senate floor.
Under current Utah law, the possession of anything as little as an ounce of marijuana can result in a 6-month jail sentence.
Cottle and Hastings say they hope this discussion will motivate students to pick up the phone, call their legislators, and make their voices heard.
In regards to the passage of any kind of comprehensive medical marijuana laws, the panelists said they see a very little chance of that happening within the next couple of years. They say there just aren’t enough votes currently in the legislature to make that happen.