Amid Mormon Church Opposition A Third Medical Cannabis Bill Proposed In Utah

Temple Cannabis Now Magazine

“It would be immoral to back down,” Sen. Mark Madsen told KUTV in Salt Lake City earlier this week. “…There are people out there who are suffering.”

Late last Friday the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a press statement, although not a direct message from the prophet and presidency, in opposition to Sen. Mark Madsen’s SB 73, The Medical Cannabis Act. The church has declined to speak specifics with both Sen. Madsen and Connor Boyack, president and founder of the Utah-based libertarian think-tank Libertas Institute, which is promoting the legislation.

“Along with others, we have expressed concern about the unintended consequences that may accompany the legalization of medical marijuana. We have expressed opposition to Sen. Madsen’s bill because of that concern. We are raising no objection to the other bill that addresses this issue,” the Church’s statement read.

There are now three medical cannabis bills being proposed in Utah. The bill the Church refers to in the statement, SB 89, is being proposed by senators in opposition to Madsen’s proposal and would be a very slight expansion of the state’s existing CBD-only legislation. There is currently no patient support for this bill. SB 89 is being proposed by Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City), a pharmacist who was one of the most vocal opponents to Sen. Madsen’s whole-plant proposal in 2015.

On Monday evening, Sen. Brian Shiozawa (R-Salt Lake), also a vocal opponent to safe access and a physician by trade, proposed a third bill. Despite mountains of studies being placed in binders and distributed throughout the legislature by Sen. Madsen — literally addressing every concern that has been brought up in opposition — Shiozawa says the problem is still that there simply isn’t enough research. He is proposing a piece of legislation that is essentially a request from the State of Utah to the federal government asking that cannabis be rescheduled from Schedule I to Schedule II to open up research. Shiozawa says this will address the growing body of patients’ concerns “within months.”

“I envision this to be actually not an issue of years down the road, but perhaps months down the road,” Shiozawa told Good4Utah.com.

Boyack is skeptical.

“The fundamental problem with this resolution is it’s kicking the can down the road. These patients can’t wait decades for congress to get its act in order, for researchers to get studies under way,” Boyack told Good4Utah.

Humans have used cannabis for over 5,000 years with no pharmacological overdose deaths ever recorded. International and domestic researchers have conducted thousands of studies on the safety and efficacy of the cannabis plant since the mid-1960s. Further, ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the psychotropic cannabinoid at the center of all the legislative concern — has been a Schedule III drug approved by the FDA since 1986. Marinol (dronabinol) is a synthetic THC medication prescribed to AIDS and cancer patients. Patients who use Marinol find it less effective than whole-plant medical cannabis. The efficacy of whole-plant cannabis is backed by science, as described by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam’s research on the “entourage effect” of the cannabinoids found in cannabis to work synergistically with the other compounds — terpenoids and flavanoids — to create the medical effects patients are seeking.

Both Madsen and Boyack are members of the Church in good standing. Senator Madsen is the grandson of Ezra Taft Benson, president and prophet of the Church from 1985 until his death in 1994. Benson served as the United States Secretary of Agriculture under President Eisenhower. They say they are disappointed in the statement but have doubled-down their commitment to pass the legislation, which is supported by nearly two-thirds of the state, including 67 percent of Mormons.

Boyack was essential in the proposal and passage of HB 105 in 2014, The Utah Hemp Extracts Registry, which was the first CBD-only law in the nation. Eleven conservative states followed Utah’s lead shortly after, yet patients in all these states have continued to push for more. Boyack says it is more important than ever, now, to pass a law that creates safe access to whole-plant cannabis to more patients in the state. Under Madsen’s proposal, Utah would license in-state production, manufacturing and distribution of whole-plant cannabis medicines.

“There was one question I was asked more than any other when starting Libertas Institute, ‘What will you do when you find yourself promoting an issue that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes?” Boyack said in a Facebook statement. “Four years later, that day has now arrived. So what will I do? I will keep fighting for patients to not be treated as criminals by the state. For reasons I won’t yet mention, I strongly believe it’s what God wants, and wants me to do.”

Sen. Madsen has also re-doubled his commitment to the bill and already said last year he will help citizens with a referendum should the legislature not approve his proposal now. Activist groups have already begun proposing such a measure to the press.

“If the church is going to do this in smokeless back rooms, then we need to light some fires for the people in broad daylight,” David Kirkham told the Salt Lake Tribune. Kirkham is a founder of the state’s tea party and former Republican gubernatorial candidate.

In 2015, the Medical Cannabis Act (then SB 259) was defeated in a surprise upset by one flipped vote. Since that time a growing body of patients have “outed” themselves to local and national media in support of Sen. Madsen’s legislation. The issue has become a central debate in the state’s short 45-day session, but has national implications. If Utah passes SB 73, it will be the 24th state to legalize whole-plant medical cannabis, but also the first to progress from a restrictive CBD-only policy to one that is supported by the majority of patients nationally. It is likely to be duplicated in states that followed its lead with cannabidiol (CBD).

Patients are speaking out against more CBD-only legislation.

“If [SB 89, the CBD-only bill] is passed in the current form, not only will it draw attention to the massive scientific shortcomings of the bill, but it will also showcase the laziness of Utah lawmakers who are choosing to put their head in the sand and abandon thousands of potential patients who will not only become more vocal, but will continue to visit Capitol Hill each year to fight for liberty and [the] right to alleviate the suffering of their loved ones, and basic Constitutional rights,” said Aaron Campbell, in his blog “The Choice Life.”

Campbell is the father of Madelena Campbell. “Maddie” and two of her siblings were diagnosed with a rare and fatal disease. Their oldest daughter, Tori, passed away of complications of the disease in 2014. Since that time the Campbell’s have used medical cannabis to treat Maddie. It has prolonged her life, slowed the progression of her disease and given her significant improvement in quality of life.

Do you live in Utah and think medical cannabis could benefit your health? Tell us your stories below.

Angela Bacca is a Portland, Oregon-based writer, journalist, photographer and medical cannabis patient. She has been published in a wide variety of print and digital publications including Cannabis Now Magazine, Alternet, SFCritic Music Blog, Skunk Magazine, West Coast Cannabis, Cannabis Culture Magazine, Ladybud Magazine and Opposing Views, among others. She has a Bachelor's in Journalism from San Francisco State University and a Master's in Business Administration from Mills College.
  • Mary Jane

    I live in Utah and smoke weed daily. The issue is not in the weed, it’s in the Mormon controlled state. We can’t even have a shot of vodka with our dinner in restaurants because of the “iron curtain” law. We can’t buy booze in grocery stores, we have to go to a liquor store that closes at 7 pm. Fuck this state they need to get their shit together