Herbert Keeping Open Mind on Medical Marijuana

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert seemed to open the door Thursday a bit on legalizing medical marijuana in Utah – an idea that was killed in the 2015 Legislature.

In his monthly KUED TV Channel 7 press conference with local reporters, Herbert – who himself was struggling to speak with a sore throat – said that he was willing to entertain the idea of Utah legalizing medical marijuana – which has proven effective in mitigating side effects of some harsh medical treatments, like cancer chemotherapy and radiation.

“I’m open to medical marijuana and how it is used, based on science and good evidence” of effectiveness, said Herbert.

Archconservative Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, who has had severe back pain over the years, introduced a rather confusing bill in the last general session which would have allowed the medical use of marijuana.

Madsen even traveled to Colorado last year and tried legal medical marijuana under the observation of a physician – and said it did give him pain relief.

But Madsen’s bill had a number of problems, and didn’t make it out of the Senate – although it narrowly passed a preliminary Senate floor vote.

One problem was that he had state business license officials overseeing the new MM program.

Herbert said he still has a lot of questions. And added that any state program would have to get approval of his Health Department and other agency bosses who might have to oversee the program in some fashion.

One of lawmakers’ main concerns was how easy it would be for citizens/patients to get a Utah marijuana prescription.

California, for example, has a rather lax program with allows prescriptions for a whole variety of purported medical issues.

Still, Herbert’s comments Thursday show the governor – who faces e-election in 2016 – is open to the idea of a MM program in Utah.

One reason may be that the Utah Legislature in recent years has taken on – in some cases – a rather libertarian bent.

Some very conservative legislators seem tired of government – even the state government they fund and oversee – making so many decisions for citizens.

One question, said Herbert, “is the quality and quantity (of medical marijuana), and who oversees it.”

“There are questions still unanswered.”

Any legal status change in Utah, said Herbert, “must be done on the basis of good science.”

In other words, would some seriously ill patients really be helped by the drug?

If the science is good, then, said Herbert, there has to be collaboration with the Legislature in moving forward.

State department heads in Health and Human Services must be onboard, and there would also have to be some collaboration with the federal government – which still outlaws general use of marijuana.

Basically, in the few states that have just legalized marijuana for use by any adult (Utah may never do that) federal law enforcement officials are just looking the other way for individual users – although state and federal drug enforcement officials are still going after illegal growers and dealers.

Currently, 23 states have some kind of law allowing the use of medical marijuana.

Last year the Utah Legislature passed a very restrictive law that allows patients with certain kinds of seizures to use an extract of the marijuana plant – which seems to help them.

But most states that allow medical marijuana prescriptions allow patients to smoke the crushed plant – not take an extract.

“We have seen some benefit” from the 2014 law allowing the extract for seizure control, said Herbert.

And if regular medical marijuana use for seriously ill patients proves effective – the drug taken under a doctor’s care – well, it appears Herbert is at least open to discussion.