Pubdate: Tue, 09 Feb 2016
Source: Salt Lake Tribune (UT)
Copyright: 2016 The Salt Lake Tribune
Authors: Robert Gehrke and Lee Davidson


Uphill Battle) One Senator Pulls His Support; Madsen Says Church 
Position a Blow but Still Has Hope for Success.

At least one and possibly two senators have abandoned their support 
of a medical-marijuana bill pending in the Utah Legislature after the 
LDS Church issued a statement opposing the measure.

The measure's sponsor, Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, said his 
colleagues' change of heart is a blow to his effort to make Utah the 
24th state to legalize medical cannabis, but he hopes there is still 
time to make the case to senators that the bill is worth passing.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement 
Friday to The Salt Lake Tribune that it officially opposes Madsen's SB73.

"Along with others, we have expressed concern about the unintended 
consequences that may accompany the legalization of medical 
marijuana," church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in the statement. "We 
have expressed opposition to Senator Madsen's bill because of that concern."

Representatives of the state's predominant faith had met with Madsen 
and legislative leaders earlier in the session to voice their 
concerns and opposition to the bill privately. About 60 percent of 
Utahns and the vast majority of the 104 legislators are Mormons.

The church's opposition "makes it more difficult," said Senate 
President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. "I don't know if I would 
characterize it as dead on arrival."

Madsen said he was glad to have the church's position aired publicly.

"It's more healthy to have these things done in the open rather than 
done in backrooms with smaller groups of people, especially when it 
affects the whole state," Madsen said Monday. "I think these 
conversations are best had for all to see."

The bill fell one vote shy of passage in the Senate last year, but 
backers acknowledged it may have had a rocky path in the House. 
Madsen said this year one senator had dropped his support for the 
measure and another may have done the same.

"I think we're still in pretty good shape," Madsen said, "and we've 
got a couple days to try to circle back with some folks."

The degree to which the church's position sways members varies from 
senator to senator.

"It certainly has an effect on the margins and on some votes it is a 
matter of: When the church speaks, we do," Madsen said. "Everyone has 
their own prerogative and informs their own positions in their own 
way, but obviously there are others who weigh [the church's view] 
among other things."

The church said it had "no objections" to another cannabis-related 
bill sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, and Rep. Brad Daw, 
R-Orem. That measure, SB89, would allow adults to use cannabidiol 
products - or CBD oils - extracted from marijuana plants but 
containing no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical 
in the plant.

Madsen and supporters of SB73 say that CBD oils can be useful for 
some ailments, but others respond better to use of the entire plant, 
including THC.

His bill would allow the use of those products and would enable 
parents to use them to treat their children, as well.

Niederhauser said that, based on his visits to dispensaries and 
growing facilities in Arizona and Colorado, he has personal concerns 
about the measure.

"Colorado is obviously recreational, but a lot of what they produce 
there is for medicinal purposes," he said. "The whole dispensary 
system really concerns me."

He said Congress needs to reclassify marijuana from being a Schedule 
1 drug on par with heroin and cocaine "before we dive into making 
this legal or creating all kinds of distribution systems."

Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund said that, because the 
marijuana bill has been debated before, he believes most senators 
have made up their minds.

"There may be a few fence-riders who may be influenced by additional 
information that may come out," said Okerlund, R-Monroe. "But I think 
it's just going to be one of those really interesting debates ... 
where floor debate may swing it one way or the other."

It is likely that the Vickers and Madsen bills will be considered by 
the full Senate on the same day, possibly by week's end.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom