Utah Passes Two Medical Cannabis Bills Out of Committee, Onto Senate

Marijuana Cannabis Now Magazine

Both Utah’s SB 73, the whole-plant medical cannabis bill, and SB 89, a continuation of the state’s current and pioneering CBD-only legislation, passed committees and onto the Senate floor today. The bills will now be heard simultaneously.

Sen. Mark Madsen’s (R-Saratoga Springs) whole-plant medical cannabis bill passed today in a 4-1 vote after an emotional two-hour testimony from, patients, advocates and local medical professionals. There was standing room only in the committee and two overflow rooms set up at the capitol for patients coming to support the bill.

If SB 73 passes, it will be signed into law March 11 and make Utah the 24th state with safe access to medical cannabis, but also the first to progress from a restrictive CBD-only policy to whole-plant access.

SB 73 was heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Sen. Madsen chairs. Sen. Luz Escamilla (D-Salt Lake) stepped up as acting chair to hear the bill. The bill would establish in-state licensing, cultivation, production and distribution of whole-plant medical cannabis to patients with a wide range of conditions including cancer, AIDS, epilepsy, autoimmune diseases, chronic pain and PTSD.

If SB 89 passes, current CBD-only legislation, which is set to expire this summer, will be continued, studied and expanded to patients with cancer or terminal diagnoses.

“We tried to start where we left off last year and make it stronger,” Sen. Madsen said in a briefing with the Libertas Institute.

Madsen has suggested SB 89, which was proposed by senators opposed to his bill in the last session, is meant to pre-empt his legislation. He said after last year, when his bill was killed in a surprise upset, he has spent time addressing every single concern, reaching out to scientists, doctors, patients and experts in other states.

“I think we need to learn from other states and rely on science. There is a very robust corpus of [research] that has to do with whole plant cannabis. Whole plant contains THC, CBD is a relatively new phenomenon.”

The hearing opened with testimony from Dr. Steve Pulley. Pulley is a board certified pain management specialist with the Omega Pain Clinic in Salt Lake City.

“…Through a combination of cannabinoids, flavinoids and terpenoids we achieve a greater effect than isolating one or two of the compounds, concentrating it and giving it to the patient… We have evidence of this with Marinol,” said Dr. Pulley.

Pulley was followed by three more doctors specifically supporting whole-plant access for their patients, citing the science in favor of THC-containing whole-plant cannabis as opposed to high or isolated CBD.

“There are hundreds of very good articles out there talking about the treatment of nausea with medical cannabis,” Dr. Daniel Cottam said. Cottam is a Utah-based bariatric surgeon who has published over 50 articles on gastrointestinal surgery.

“Since we are debating whether to have part or all of it [the cannabis plant] — every day I treat nausea and I use synergistic medication to work together to decrease nausea. Medical marijuana breaks that relationship up. My support for this bill is related to fact. We must endorse a bill that gives patients a chance to receive ultimate relief.”

Cottam continued, “So often when I am faced with the drugs that don’t work I have to send [my patients] to another state. I feel wrong about that. We should endorse a bill that gives patients a chance to stay in a state they choose to live in and not send them to California, Colorado and Arizona.”

Cottam was followed by Dr. Legrand Belnap, a Salt Lake–based general surgeon. Belnap said he knew there was a lot of emotion because of the word “marijuana” and he was also opposed to it until 15 years prior when a patient left his practice to live in California and use it while going through terminal cancer.

“We don’t have any good evidence [SB 89] will be better than the 20,000 publications supporting whole plant. It would be unfortunate, maybe even criminal, to assign patients to an unknown domain [CBD-only],” Belnap said.

Belnap added he would like to see his patients feel the euphoria of THC so they could be “high enough to look forward to another day.”

“We know it’s a very safe drug. Of the drugs we have prescribed, the margin of safety of the profile of cannabinoids is the safest I have ever seen… The physicians who don’t think it’s useful just haven’t studied it,” Belnap concluded.

Two of Dr. Belnap’s patients testified, the first an emotional testimony from Kenneth Thomason, who is dying of cancer. All of his organs were scarred from surgery and chemotherapy and Thomason spent over a year on opiates trying to recover before friends brought him cannabis to try.

“If I can do anything, it is to leave a legacy for the patients that come behind me,” Thomason said on why he has come to support the bill. “Marijuana gave me that handle back on my life.”

Dallas Sainsbury is 23-years-old and was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of 9. She has exhausted almost all of her pharmaceutical options. She owns her own business and is the mother of a 6-year-old, who she fears may also be showing symptoms of the autoimmune disorder. Crohn’s Disease leads to painful inflammation in the digestive tract, and other parts of the body, that leads to surgical removal of the colon and small intestines.

“My doctor wanted me to tell you guys that I, like many others out there, are out of options,” Sainsbury said.

She said she has been spending time in Colorado and using whole-plant cannabis in the nearby state has been a revelation to her. She has been able to make progress once though futile.

“If I have access I can get off opiates, steroids and muscle relaxers. I know I am one of thousands of patients who wants to end that cycle. I want to end it for me, but also future generations,” she said crying, mentioning her son.

Sen. Todd Weiler (R-Woods Cross), the most vocal opponent to last year’s bill, suggested the committee hold off on voting on the bill until more of the specific details of the legislation could be addressed. He said it wasn’t just about “sick people again.”

Sen. Gene Davis (D-Salt lake) suggested the bill be voted on so it could be heard alongside the CBD proposal and mentioned both Sen. Urqhardt (R-St. George) and Sen. Madsen had made themselves available to discuss these specifics and had with Weiler. His motion was approved and a vote was taken.

The final vote was four in favor: Sen. Mark Madsen, Sen. Luz Escamilla, Sen. Gene Davis and Sen. Urqhardt. Senators Weiler and Hillyard chose to pass their votes. Sen. Thatcher (R-Salt Lake) was the only senator to vote in opposition to the bill, citing federal law and desire for the slower approach of more CBD-only legislation.

Sen. Madsen reminded the body he had made hundreds of formal studies available in binders, stating “the suggestion there is no science is hopefully running thin.”

The bill now moves to the Senate floor where it will be heard three times. If approved by the Senate it moves into the House of Representatives and onto Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk on March 11.

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.
  • John

    Okay, I understand my LDS/Mormon faith wants to be cautious – “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints confirmed Friday night that it has “expressed opposition” to a state legislative bill that would legalize access to the entirety of the marijuana plant for those suffering from a limited number of medical conditions.”

    “Church officials are worried about the “unintended consequences” of Senate Bill 73, a measure proposed by Republican state Sen. Mark Madsen, church spokesman Eric Hawkins said.”

    Because we are not allowed to get drunk or high. We have a strong belief about free agency and are opposed to chemicals that limit our ability to choose right from wrong.

    I suffer from severe pain from arthritis, a back injury, PTSD from sexual trauma and torture (in the military), and neurological issues – diabetic nerve pain, and nonessential tremor in my head and hands.

    Decades ago, before I joined this church, I smoked pot. It calmed my nerves. Years later, visiting California, as a LDS church member, I tried out various medical cannabis products. The CBG, CBC and CBD really did zero for my pain or PTSD. I found a lolle-zing (Indica.40mg THC.5mg CBD)that relaxed me and diminished pain. It had some THC in it but left me functional.

    My kidneys and liver can’t handle Acetaminophen now (an ingredient in Hydrocodone. Acetaminophen is a pain reliever and a fever reducer. Acetaminophen is used to treat many conditions such as headache, muscle aches, arthritis, backache, …

    The Veterans Hospital gives their reason for discontinuing:

    “After October 3, 2014, many Veterans may notice VA prescription changes for hydrocodone combination (HC) medications. It’s important to know how these rule changes affect your HC prescription.”

    “Brand names for HCs include AZDONE, LORCET, LORTAB, IBUDONE, TUSSIONEX or VICODIN. VA prescription bottles will typically list HYDROCODONE, TRAMADOL, and another medicine such as ACETAMINOPHEN. These medicines may be used to relieve pain or to reduce coughing.”

    “The change comes from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The new rule changes HC medicines from a Schedule III drug to a Schedule II drug. They will now be more strictly controlled. The DEA did this because these medications were found to be highly abused, habit forming and potentially deadly in overdoses. These stricter regulations should improve their safe use for everyone.”

    We know cannabis (not smoked) does no harm to diabetics. It does relieve stress and diminishes pain. The THC is an issue for some but not all. Pharmaceutical opiates can and do cause harm. They do change your thinking too.

    Evidently, the THC is an issue in my faith, or the lack of study and regulation with its use. It is bad I live with guilt for using medical cannabis because of the THC. I do find relief. I have suffered so many years and my family because of my issues and this helps. What to do…

    Please Help:
    Maybe some expert doctors and scientists can contact the LDS Church leadership and work with them to find a healing path with cannabis. A lot of us suffer without relief.