SB259: Utah medical marijuana bill gets out of committee with close vote


SALT LAKE CITY — A Senate committee gave a favorable recommendation to a controversial bill that would allow the sale of medical marijuana in Utah.

The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice committee passed the medical cannabis bill SB259 out of committee with a vote of 3-2. People packed the senate committee as individuals and their families shared diverse views on both medical marijuana and the proposed bill by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs. Several residents viewed the meeting in overflow rooms until public comment commenced.

A Senate Seargent-At-Arms officer escorts people from a committee room to an overflow because of the interest in the medical marijuana bill.
A Senate Seargent-At-Arms officer escorts people from a committee room to an overflow because of the interest in the medical marijuana bill.

Madsen said, “There are people who are being denied relief and treatment because of public policy.”

Madsen shared his personal research about medical marijuana, including trying cannabis personally, in an attempt to overcome the stigma of the plant. Madsen additionally expressed the concern that some individuals were fearful to testify because they use cannabis in the state.

As far as comments from the governmental parties involved, many parties did not have a firm position on the bill or how the bill would affect them, because of the lack of time between the presentation of the bill and the meeting held this morning. However, a department that did speak about execution concerns was the State Tax Commission.

John Valentine, Utah Tax Commission chair, said, “This bill in its present form is not a tax bill. We are at a quandary as to how to make this bill work. The problem is not in the legalization of the marijuana, but in the funds that go with it. Those funds are tainted in the eyes of the federal government.”

The commission’s concern is that there is no infrastructure to keep the money that originates from funds and fees specified in this bill. Specifically, that banks and credit unions will not handle these funds because of federal paperwork of handling drug money.

Opponents and supporters voiced their opinions representing the haze revolving around cannabis for medical usage. Resident Linda Nelson said, “I sympathize with people with problems, but I would never short circuit the FDA. We need to depend on the science and the facts, but I’m anxious to see the facts.”

Opponents are mainly concerned about the unforeseen effects of using medical marijuana as well as the ability to enforce the potential bill. Specifically, some fear that there will be issues of theft and that a competitive market for cannabis would be created through drug dealers selling the product at a lower price.

Meanwhile, others seem more optimistic regarding the bill, claiming that Utah is different than Colorado, and that Utah will be more successful with this type of legislation. Additionally, several individuals for the bill claim that this type of legislation would be a win for state amendment rights.

Ultimately, the bill has farther to go before becoming a law, but it has passed its first hurdle.

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