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.