Pubdate: Mon, 30 May 2016
Source: Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT)
Copyright: 2016 Deseret News Publishing Corp.
Author: Daphne Chen, Deseret News


SALT LAKE CITY - Medical marijuana advocates, stymied in their recent
efforts to legalize medical cannabis in Utah, are taking the fight to
the nation's capital.

They are calling on Utah's congressional delegation to support a bill
that would downgrade marijuana from a schedule I controlled substance
to a schedule II substance - something that state legislators urged
Congress to do in a resolution sponsored by state Sen. Brian Shiozawa,
R-Salt Lake City.

That would open the way for more research on the substance, something
both advocates and those concerned about the potential harmful impacts
of marijuana support.

Christine Stenquist, executive director of TRUCE (Together for
Responsible Use and Cannabis Education), said state lawmakers should
be doing more to convince Utah's delegation to open up marijuana research.

"If they are telling us that our fight isn't with them (and) it's with
the federal government, and they are in agreement of the resolution
that Brian Shiozawa did ... then all of those representatives and
senators should be behind every single one of their constituents
advocating for that to happen on the federal level," Stenquist said.
"But that's not what I'm hearing or seeing."

She and state Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, who fought a
failed bid to legalize medical marijuana in Utah in the last
legislative session, said they hope to travel to Washington, D.C. in
the summer to lobby members of Congress.

In his past meetings with Utah's congressional delegation, most
members have been open-minded if cautious, Madsen said.

"I was very encouraged by (U.S. Rep. Chris) Stewart and I was very
encouraged by (U.S. Rep. Rob) Bishop and I was very encouraged by
(U.S. Rep. Mia Love)," Madsen said. "And I think that (U.S. Sen.) Mike
Lee's principles will inevitably drive him to the right position on

Legalizing medical marijuana in the next legislative session remains
first priority, the state senator said.

But if the federal government can officially reclassify marijuana,
Madsen believes it would neutralize some of the chief complaints from
opponents of medical marijuana - among them, that marijuana is still
illegal under federal law, and that research on its medicinal
qualities is thin.

"You just have to show them that it's safe politically or whatever it
is that's holding them back from doing the right thing," Madsen said.
"You've got to knock out every argument so finally they have to give

Possible changes

Advocates are riding a tide of warming attitudes in Congress, where
last week the House approved a measure that would let Veterans Affairs
doctors recommend medical marijuana to patients in states that have
legalized it - something the VA currently prohibits.

In April, the Drug Enforcement Administration told lawmakers it hopes
to make a decision on reclassifying marijuana in the first half of
2016. Critics say the classification is out of step with a growing
body of international scientific research, public opinion and state

Marijuana currently shares Schedule I status with substances like
heroin and ecstasy, meaning that the government considers it to have
"no medical use and a high potential for abuse."

Doctors can't prescribe it. Researchers who want to study it face
significant hurdles. And patients in states like Utah, where low-THC
cannabidiol is legal, have no way to get the drug without technically
breaking federal law.

"There's nobody I talk to up on the hill, whether they like the
Vickers-Daw bill or the Madsen bill, who is opposed to research," said
Shiozawa, referring to the two competing medical cannabis bills that
both failed in the 2016 legislative session. "They all said we have to
have answers."

Shiozawa said he has spoken personally to Chaffetz and U.S. Sen. Orrin
Hatch about getting involved and neither indicated strong interest.
The issue, Shiozawa said, "needs to be revisited" with Utah's
congressional delegation.

"We can do that as a state legislature, we can do that as the
governor," Shiozawa said. "I think there's some real merit to this. If
we had done this two years ago, we'd already have some answers."

"I'm worried they're a little distracted with all the things going on
during the election year to get something substantial passed," he
said. "Unfortunately, it's kind of like anything else. If you don't
pay attention to it, it won't get done."

Chaffetz has urged caution on rescheduling marijuana, raising concern
about unintended consequences. He introduced a bill in Congress to
legalize CBD oil in states where it's approved for patient use in March.

"Look, I had a mother who passed away from cancer and a dad who passed
away from cancer, and there are reasons to address those things, but
they have to be dealt with in a very scientific way," he told the Utah
Senate in February.

Hatch, Lee and Love's offices did not respond to requests for comment.
Bishop and Stewart were traveling, their spokespeople said.

Love and Chaffetz both voted in favor of the House bill that would
allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. Bishop
and Stewart opposed it.

Mike Liszewski, government affairs director at Washington, D.C.-based
Americans for Safe Access, said the organization hasn't gotten "any
sort of robust commitment yet from the Utah delegation," although he
said support in Congress for medical marijuana is growing.

Both Republican Utah gubernatorial candidates support rescheduling
medical marijuana on the federal level.

Local lawmakers

Gov. Gary Herbert told the combined Deseret News and KSL editorial
board last week that gathering research is a critical first step
before legalizing medical marijuana.

"People are anxious, I understand that," Herbert said. "But I think
we're taking a very responsible approach in Utah."

Herbert has repeatedly advocated for a cautious, research-based
approach to medical marijuana legalization.

"If there really is a medicinal benefit to cannabis, cannabis oil, (or
the) marijuana plant, let's get the science out there so we can
measure it and quantify it and see if it impacts you the same way it
impacts me," he told the editorial board. "That's what we have science
and research for. The big inhibitor has been the federal government,
for heaven's sake."

His challenger, chairman Jonathan Johnson, said he would
have signed either of the two competing medical cannabis bills that
failed in the Utah Legislature last session.

Johnson said marijuana should be reclassified but called the Shiozawa
resolution "almost meaningless" unless action follows.

"I don't think Congress is doing enough on this," he

He added: "To me, it's odd that the federal government's not enforcing
its marijuana laws, and yet it won't allow drug companies and the FDA
to see if marijuana can be used productively as a medicine. It's like
the worst of both worlds."
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