Bob Bernick’s notebook: Lawmakers say they can craft a better medical marijuana law than Prop. 2

The likely next two leaders of the Utah Legislature say they agree with GOP Gov. Gary Herbert that pass or fail, Prop. 2 and medical marijuana will find the Legislature creating a new law that opens up the drug to more sick and suffering Utahns.

I spoke with House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, who is running for speaker after the Nov. 6 general election, and Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who is running for Senate president after the elections.

Both are now favored to win their leadership posts – and may have no or little opposition in their elections.

Wilson is more hesitant when talking about what’s coming with medical marijuana.

Adams not so.

Adams guarantees there will a new medical marijuana bill, maybe more than one, coming.

He even says the Senate GOP leadership currently – and he’s in it – favors a post-Nov. 6 special legislative session to either “fix” Prop. 2 should it pass, or adopt a new medical marijuana law, should Prop. 2 fail at the ballot box.

Wilson doesn’t go that far. But he does say he imagines one or more medical marijuana bills in the 2019 Legislature – where he may well be Speaker and head a new Republican leadership team.

Current House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, has told that a special session after the Nov. 6 election may not be the best move.

Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, are both retiring the end of this year.

Lobbyists and others are reportedly talking now mostly with the possible new leadership teams in the House and Senate – looking to the 2019 45-day general session starting the end of January.

Last week in his monthly KUED press conference, Herbert was strident in promising that Utah would get a new medical marijuana law regardless if Prop 2 passes or fails.

Herbert, Adams and Wilson credit Prop. 2 backers – in successfully getting the initiative on the ballot and seeing public opinion polls with huge majorities in favor of Prop. 2 – with getting the Legislature’s attention.

And all three believe something will be done. And soon, if not in a special session.

“Will there be a new, broader medical marijuana law in Utah?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” said Adams.

“We will expand current law. We will pass a functioning medical marijuana law that will give” suffering Utahns “access to it,” he added.

All three hope Prop. 2 fails at the ballot box, saying it is unworkable, goes too far towards unregulated – or recreational – use, and must have major fixes, even if it passes.

Voters should cast down Prop. 2 “and give us” – the legislators – “the ball,” said Adams. “We will run with it” to get a new medical marijuana law.

“I’m extremely confident we will adopt a better (medical marijuana) law” than Prop. 2,” he said.

Wilson says House members are ready to act, but he can’t say exactly how the new law will look, or function – just that it will be better than Prop. 2.

“There is a lot of energy” in the Legislature “now to work on this,” said Wilson.

How the medical marijuana will be dispensed is a critical issue.

Prop. 2 envisions licensed and controlled growing, processing and distribution of medical marijuana, with its backers saying legislators just want to stall on helping sick and suffering Utahns.

LDS Church officials – who have come out against Prop. 2 – say that if the state can get some kind of “waiver” from the federal government, currently licensed pharmacies may be able to dispense.

Adams and Wilson don’t necessarily see that happening.

Herbert suggested that county health departments – which already have doctors and nurses working for them – could be licensed to distribute medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription.

Wilson has an interesting look at the process. He doesn’t like the idea of the state telling licensed doctors how to prescribe it, or even what ailments it may be used for.

“We don’t do that with any other drugs; we don’t tell physicians how to treat diseases or what drugs to use,” he said.

The bigger question for him is which doctors to license to dispense medical marijuana. Once you do that, then the doctors should be free to prescribe medical marijuana in any way their considerable training and oversight prescribe, said Wilson.

Considering Utah’s current epidemic of addictive opioid use, certainly medical marijuana should be allowed for pain relief, both lawmakers said.

Adams said should Prop. 2 pass, expect the Legislature to make wholesale changes to it – but with the ultimate goal being the same: More Utahns would get the choice of using prescribed, controlled medical marijuana.

If that comes to pass, Utah would be joining about 30 other states – including Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico, Utah’s neighbors — in having a legal, controlled process for the sick and suffering to obtain medical marijuana.