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LDS Church's opposition does not necessarily doom medical marijuana bill, sponsor says

Published: Monday, Feb. 8 2016 7:50 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The sponsor of a bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana says The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' opposition to the legislation does not necessarily doom its passage.

"Obviously, I’d always like everyone to endorse every one of my bills but I’ve been here before on other issues. I’ve disagreed with the church on issues, they’ve fought me on some of my Second Amendment issues before and I’ve had to rally my colleagues over their objections. So we’ll see if I can do the same again this time," said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, in an interview Monday afternoon.

The Utah Senate could hear the bill, SB73, as soon as this week.

Asked if he might revise the bill to address the LDS Church's concerns about "unintended consequences," of medical marijuana, Madsen said change was unlikely at this juncture.

“We’re always looking to improve the bill, but we’re not going back to have any change or revision from the direction we’ve been going. If there was a dialogue or some kind of even mere impression what direction we might go, we’d consider it, but where do you go when there’s no meaningful feedback or dialogue?" Madsen said.

LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement Friday that there is concern about the "unintended consequences" of legalizing medical marijuana and "expressed opposition" to Madsen's bill.

"As we have said during previous legislative sessions, there are a number of potential impacts that must be considered in any discussion about the legalization of medical marijuana, including balancing medical need with the necessity of responsible controls," Hawkins said.

"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," he said.

Madsen said it is a tragic outcome "when people are damaged by special interests that exercise tremendous influence over the public policy here."

There would be many "intended consequences" of such a change in policy, he said.

"We know opiate overdoses go down. We know certain things about feared consequences that don’t happen like teen use rates going up. Unless the people in Utah are a lot stupider than people in 23 other states, teen use isn’t going to go up and opiate overdoses are going to go down," he said.

"If there are other intended consequences we might be concerned about, let’s speak of them openly going forward and have a dialogue."

Some research indicates that states that permit medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not.

The authors of a Rand Corporation study, which found that states that legalized medical marijuana and provided it through dispensaries saw reduced rates of deaths due to opiate-based narcotics, said they need more data to confirm their early findings.

Madsen said he is concerned about children who experience relief from seizures using cannabis oils, but they require higher levels of THC — tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis — to keep the condition in check as they age.

"It would be tragic that the law would give relief to some subset of these little kids but not another. Or to allow them to have the relief and stop their seizures until they reach adolescence and then say ‘Oh, no THC. Sorry, you got to start seizing again,'" the state senator said.

Madsen said he worries about people who can readily become addicts from opiate medications.

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