BYU students give mixed views as medical marijuana bill passes key vote

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SALT LAKE CITY — A controversial medical marijuana bill passed the Utah Senate in a close 17-12 vote now headed Utah’s House. A few BYU students have expressed mixed feelings about the bill.

Rick Bowmer
Republican Sen. Mark Madsen, of Eagle Mountain, addresses Sen. Evan Vickers during debate on a medical marijuana bill on the Senate floor at the Utah State Capitol Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Salt Lake City. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement Monday that restrictions added to the proposal last week substantially improved it. (Associated Press/Rick Bowmer)

SB73, a bill proposing the use of medical marijuana, has gained attention in local and national news, especially after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it initially opposed the legislation. Despite the church’s concerns, based on federal restrictions and worries of drug abuse, a few BYU students expressed mixed feelings.

Dorrin Porter, a pre-nursing major from Washington state offered some reservations about the measure, warning against the negatives of the potential new law. Porter cited the experiences he has seen in Washington as evidence of the negative. Porter referred to dispensaries that opened up in the wake of recent Washington laws, and made a strong note of their common failure.

Porter said, “Personally, I don’t think it has any medical benefits to anyone and so I think it should be killed.”

Katie Harris, an English major, also offered some warnings about the potential of SB73.

Harris said, “I think that there’s a lot of bad things about marijuana that we are not taking into account. Although maybe there’s some aspects of it that might be beneficial medically, I think it should not pass.”

Some students do see the law as offering a potential for safer medical practices. Rex Tyler,  a BYU linguistics student, spoke from the perspective of someone who has coped with pain and who has seen close friends grow addicted to legal painkillers. Tyler supported the idea as an alternative to more potentially dangerous pain-relievers, and urged a separation between the moral views of the church and the law.

Rex said, “The painkillers we are using are already pretty bad, they have stuff far worse than marijuana that’s in them, a lot more addictive . . . It’s a good thing, just like any other thing used for medicine it’s not necessarily bad.”

Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs and the bill’s sponsor, Wednesday alongside supporters, including former University of Utah coach Ron McBride, asked the public to support the bill.  Madsen, who is a grandson of former church President Ezra Taft Benson, expressed some concern with the LDS Church’s initial statement and lobbying connected to the bill. He also offered some thanks for a revised second church statement that helped clarify the issue.

In a statement issued Feb. 22, the LDS Church said, “In our view, the issue for the Utah Legislature is how to enable the use of marijuana extracts to help people who are suffering, without increasing the likelihood of misuse at a time when drug abuse in the United States is at epidemic proportions, especially among youth. Recent changes to SB 73 are a substantial improvement. We continue to urge legislators to take into account the acknowledged need for scientific research in this matter and to fully address regulatory controls on manufacture and distribution for the health and safety of all Utahns.”

Madsen, who holds a law degree from BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, said, “I’m pleased that they released the second statement allows me to come back to my colleagues.” Since the Wednesday press conference, there have been debates in the Senate. The bill now moves to the House where it may be heard by a committee next week. It’s unclear whether this is enough votes for the bill to pass the 75-member House of Representatives.

Madsen has had his own interesting history with the issue, as a malfunction with a painkiller patch caused a life-threatening overdose. Since then, the senator has been a strong supporter of ways to rethink drug laws and consider alternative methods.

The supporters of the bill see the potential for SB73 to provide a safer alternative to existing prescription drugs, and have come in behind the rallying cry of ‘patients, not criminals’ as a way to express their concerns for the legality of what they believe is a medically safer form of treatment.

In addition to a ban on smoking marijuana, Madsen’s bill requires dispensaries to have a clinical appearance and all employees wearing white lab coats. Edible marijuana products and their packaging would not be allowed to resemble candy or be designed in a way that’s appealing to children.

To get a medical marijuana card, patients would have to have an eligible condition such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, AIDS or post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from military service.

Utah already allows a marijuana extract, called cannabidiol, to be used by those with severe epilepsy, as long as they obtain it from other states. It has low levels of THC, the hallucinogenic chemical in marijuana.

Another medical marijuana proposal also pending in Utah’s House of Representatives would allow the extract to be made in Utah, but critics argue that proposal doesn’t help enough people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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