Utah officials are discussing medical marijuana distribution options with the DEA

The public debate now forming over Prop 2 – the medical marijuana initiative on November’s ballot – is much like very intense battles in the 2015 and 2016 Legislatures.

Back then it was former Sen. Mark Benson Madsen’s medical marijuana bill, SB259 of 2015, which died in the Senate by one vote, and a more controlled bill sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers and Rep. Brad Daw, SB89 5th Substitute, in 2016, which passed the Senate, but died in the House.

The debate today between proponents of Prop 2 and opponents of the measure has morphed, of course, over time, several sources tell UtahPolicy.com.

But whether Prop 2 passes Nov. 6 or not, UtahPolicy.com is told Utah officials are talking with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, seeking some kind of “guidance” on whether it’s possible a Utah medical marijuana law that allowed licensed pharmacies NOT to be prosecuted if they dispensed medical marijuana could be implemented.

Key to the current debate is that leaders of the LDS Church now formally oppose Prop 2.

Most Utah voters consider themselves Mormons – tithe-paying or otherwise.

And what church leaders say matters. Especially when they take a very public stand – as they did opposing Prop 8 in California (a same-sex marriage proposition).

Several sources, including former state Sen. Steve Urquhart, told UtahPolicy.com that Madsen’s bill had the votes to pass the Senate until LDS leaders – and their lobbyists – started a “whispering” campaign against it.

Urquhart says several good LDS senators then switched their votes, and the bill failed 14-15.

Other sources tell UtahPolicy.com that the Vickers/Daw bill in 2016 – which had passed the Senate – had a chance in the House until the sponsors agreed to increase the THC levels allowed (the active “medicine” that helps many ailments) to 50-50 percent of a dosage.

Then, the Utah Medical Association dropped their support. And since the church was following the UMA’s lead on medical marijuana – just as they have in this year’s debate – that signaled the loss of church support for the Vickers/Daw bill.

It passed a House committee but was never voted on the floor.

(On many “moral” issues before the Utah Legislature, it has historically been the case that the church does not support an issue, rather it’s leaders don’t oppose it – or just stay silent and out of the debate. That silence, as it has on many liquor bills, is interpreted by legislators as support, and the measure can go forward on its own political merits.)

The church’s current opposition to Prop. 2 centers on several issues. Leaders say they are not against medical marijuana per se, just against Prop. 2.

But supporters of Prop 2 say the church’s stand is intellectually dishonest since federal law prohibits pharmacists from dispensing Schedule 1 drugs – like marijuana – and so what opponents of Prop 2 offered as a compromise can’t work.

However, UtahPolicy.cim is told that if federal officials were to issue something like the Cole Memo – which Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed earlier this year – then three major components of the Prop 2 opponents could be met:

— Medical marijuana dosages are exact and constant – no smoking of the leaves, no marijuana loose leaf stuff like homemade cookies.

— Medical doctors would prescribe specific dosages, as they do now for all approved drugs, like an antibiotic.

— Medical marijuana would be dispensed as written, preferably by a licensed pharmacist. A DEA memo could assure pharmacists they would not be prosecuted for distributing such a medical marijuana pill or other controlled form of the drug.

But proponents of Prop. 2 say trust has been broken by some lawmakers and LDS Church leaders – there would be no guarantee legal medical marijuana would ever be available to the truly sick and suffering in the state should Prop. 2 fail.

Around 30 other states have some kind of medical marijuana legal distribution – including neighboring Colorado and Nevada.