Hughes says medical marijuana compromise is not aimed at short-circuiting Prop. 2

An interesting hearing Wednesday night as the Utah House Democratic caucus gathered together the major players in the medical marijuana debate to hear their support of or opposition to, the Prop. 2 compromise bill that will be heard in a mid-November special legislative session.

Seventy-five or so folks gathered to testify before the Democrats, and to hear from leaders who helped craft the so-called “compromise bill,” which will be acted on in the special session, regardless of whether Prop. 2 passes on Nov. 6 or not.

Here are some of the more interesting comments made to the Democrats:

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who lead the closed-door, compromise talks: “The Legislature will deal with this issue, pass or fail” on Prop. 2.

There is no conspiracy to put off a medical marijuana law, should Prop. 2 fail at the ballot box, he said.

“Yes, we (the Legislature) will step up.”

Former state Sen. Steve Urquhart, who has criticized the LDS Church for opposing Prop. 2, and questions the intentions of the compromise: “This (compromise) is bad; an electioneering ploy.”

Walt Disney would be jealous about the Capitol Gold Room press conference announcing the compromise several weeks ago – but no one knows if the compromise bill held up at the event “is a baby lion or a baboon” – for no one will, or can, guarantee what the special session medical marijuana bill will ultimately look like.

Lawmakers didn’t want to hear patients who need medical marijuana for five years, and suddenly opponents – i.e., the LDS Church leaders – are willing to compromise? He asked.

No, said Urquhart, opponents “couldn’t allow people the empowerment” of passing a citizen initiative on medical marijuana – so they participated in the sham compromise process.

Former Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens, who is now head of government relations for the LDS Church: When Hughes called him six weeks ago and asked him to participate in Prop. 2 compromise talks, he didn’t think it would work at all.

The church is against Prop. 2 because of such little control in the initiative, he said. Patients would just experiment themselves on how much medical marijuana to take – “it is voodoo science.”

The LDS Church is supportive of the compromise, “regardless of whether Prop. 2 passes or not.” In other words, if Prop. 2 fails, the church will not sit back and expect the Legislature not to act, but will push to get medical marijuana “to those who need it.”

Gayle Ruzicka, head of the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative, family values group: “I’m concerned about the compromise.” Children and young adults could have their developing brains harmed with unregulated use of medical marijuana.

Autism should be removed from the compromise bill as one illness where medical marijuana could be used, she said.

And it probably would be best that instead of doctors prescribing medical marijuana, that the current “right to try” state board should decide on a case-by-case basis which patients could get it or not.

Local attorney Walter Plumb, who brought a lawsuit attempting to stop Prop. 2 from being on the ballot: The compromise and Prop. 2 are just decoration – both leading to recreational marijuana use.

Federal law is supreme here, not state law. The FDA should be allowed to continue testing various marijuana-based drugs, and approve or reject them after they are proven to help patients.

“Utah has no right to ignore the FDA” or federal law with outlaws marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, he said.

DJ Schanz, head of the Prop. 2 initiative: No one would have believed just months ago that the LDS Church would have supported “whole flour medical marijuana in dosage form” – which the compromise allows.

The church and many legislators have come a long, long way in the compromise – and that should be recognized, he said. “This is a possibility” in the compromise “to have a working medical marijuana program in the near and long-term in Utah.”

Christine Stenquist, founder of TRUCE, a patients advocacy group against the compromise: A national group like hers rates proposed medical marijuana bills.

That group gave Prop. 2 a 61 percent rating, and the latest version of the compromise a 58 percent rating.

A full evaluation by that group will be given to the press Thursday morning, she said.

Currently, TRUCE disagrees on how to move forward. She said she couldn’t trust Hughes anymore, nor does she believe any Prop. 2 compromise should be passed in a special session filled with “lame duck” legislators. Work should wait until the regular 2019 general session.

“The people have spoken” by putting Prop. 2 on the ballot. “They are tired of political theater” of medical marijuana.

Connor Boyack, chairman of Libertas Institute, a libertarian group who worked with Hughes and others on the compromise: Some may be upset about the closed-door compromise process. “But there is no poison pill here” aimed at killing medical marijuana via the compromise.

“This is not about (the) science” of medical marijuana use, he said but has always been about stopping prosecutors and police from criminalizing patients who want to use medical marijuana to help their illnesses.

He hopes Prop. 2 will pass, for it will then send a mandate to legislators and others, and protect the long-term compromise program.