Bob Bernick’s notebook: Herbert could be a force for good during his final two years in office

Gov. Gary Herbert promised Thursday that he will work diligently in adopting an expanded medical marijuana law that will allow sick and suffering Utahns relief by using the previously illegal drug.

For a Utah Republican leader to say that shows just how far the thinking of many in this state on medical marijuana has progressed.

And Herbert should be praised for this leadership.

Now, it may well be that Herbert can’t achieve a compromise with the Prop. 2 advocates.

GOP legislative leaders involved in the 2015 expanded medical marijuana bill sponsored by former state Sen. Mark Benson Madsen, and the 2016 battles over the Reps. Evan Vickers/Brad Daw bills contend that hardline medical marijuana supporters declined to reach agreements both years, agreements that could have allowed Madsen’s or Vickers/Daw bills to pass.

But if Herbert is true to the passion for compromise seen Thursday in his KUED press conference, then I think something good for those sick and suffering Utahns, who could really be helped by medical marijuana, can be done.

Herbert has said he’s not going to run again in 2020 – even though he continues to fundraise.

I take him at his word – never has Utah elected a governor four times. And I don’t see it happening in his case.

But for the next two years, Herbert can be a force – especially if he steps up over medical marijuana and puts his stamp on what lawmakers come up with on this sticky issue.

Herbert said Thursday that whether Prop. 2 passes or fails, he will lead an effort on Capitol Hill to amend a passed Prop. 2 or draft a whole new law if Prop. 2 fails, that will give access to sick and suffering Utahns who can benefit from medical marijuana.

All while providing public safety and health to ensure the state doesn’t end up with a sham medical marijuana law that could lead to recreational use of the drug.

No easy task this, especially now that LDS Church leaders have come out against Prop. 2.

The leaders say they don’t oppose medical marijuana per se, but oppose the initiative.

Even if Prop. 2 passes, it is clear Herbert and Republican legislators are not going to allow it to go into effect without some significant amendments – especially in the area of dispensing controlled medical marijuana drug products.

There will be no smoking of the leaves.

No “loose leaf” concoctions, like marijuana brownies baked at home.

But if you are addicted to pain pills – maybe even shooting up heroin to satisfy that addition.

If you are suffering from the loss of appetite through your chemotherapy, or have seizures or severe anxiety or other problems, medical marijuana may offer some relief.

From a political view, Herbert could stay on the sidelines of this one – let some Utah legislators take the lead on a compromise medical marijuana law.

He vows not to do that —  saying he can use the bully pulpit and his gubernatorial powers to lead the compromise charge.

Good for him.

Herbert has the highest job approval ratings of any top Utah officeholder – over 70 percent.

It is time, before he leaves office, to use up some of that political capital – get something groundbreaking done.

And fighting the opioid addition in Utah, suicide tied to drug overdoses, and bring medical marijuana relief to tens of thousands of Utahns is a great way to do all of this.

Release the hounds, Gov. Herbert.

I think you will find that exciting and fulfilling.