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Research and control at center of marijuana debate; LDS Church issues new statement

Published: Friday, Feb. 12 2016 4:55 p.m. MST

FILE - In this June 26, 2015, file photo, different varieties of marijuana flowers are displayed at medical marijuana dispensary in Portland, Ore. The American Medical Association agreed Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, to push for regulations requiring warnings be written on medical and recreational pot products and posted wherever they are sold, based on studies suggesting marijuana use may be linked with low birth weight, premature birth and behavior problems in young children. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka, File)

Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — As two very different bills aimed at making medical marijuana available to Utahns make their way through the Utah Legislature, both medical and religious leaders are urging lawmakers to pass cautious and research-driven legislation.

The two bills, SB73 by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, and SB89 by Sen Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, have drawn the attention of the Utah Medical Association, which is concerned about controls and distribution of products it says are still in need of research for their medical benefits.

"There's a national movement," to legalize medical marijuana, said William Hamilton, president of the Utah Medical Association, with more than 20 states so far choosing to do so. "But we think there's too big of a rush to legalize this potentially very dangerous drug."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has similar concerns and Friday issued a statement detailing "access, distribution, control" as principal concerns for opposing Madsen's bill, while not opposing nor endorsing Vickers' bill or the responsible pursuit of medical treatments associated with marijuana.

"While we are not in a position to evaluate specific medical claims, the church understands that there are some individuals who may benefit from the use of compounds found in marijuana," said church spokesman Eric Hawkins. "For that reason, although the church opposes SB73, it has raised no objection to SB89. These two competing pieces of legislation take very different approaches when it comes to issues like access, distribution, control and the potential harm of the hallucinogenic compound, THC.”

The church statement continued: “In addition to the therapeutic, treatment, and control questions, there are several other important issues to be resolved. At the forefront is that the use of medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law. We agree with groups such as the American Medical Association, who have said that further study is warranted before significant public policy decisions on marijuana are advanced. For these reasons, the church urges a cautious approach,” Hawkins said.

The statement follows an announcement from the church last week opposing Madsen's bill, which would allow nearly 100,000 Utahns with certain medical conditions access to the whole marijuana plant in edible form.

Vicker’s proposal would make cannabinoid products manufactured in the state available to a few thousand Utahns on a shorter list of medical conditions. It would only allow use of a mariuana-infused oil with high levels of CBD, a chemical believed to fight seizures, but low in THC, the hallucinogenic chemical known to give consumers the "high” associated with marijuana.

Vicker's bill is backed by the Utah Medical Association as the "slow and thoughtful" approach Utah needs, said the association's president, William Hamilton.

He worries Madsen's approach is too broad, while Vickers' bill would limit exposure to THC, what Hamilton called "the most harmful component of the plant.”

Comparing arguments

"(THC) causes drug-seeking behavior, since about 10 percent of the people who take it will become addicted to it," Hamilton said. "And we know it's very harmful to the development of the brain in adolescents who use it chronically."

Hamilton said the entire marijuana plant has not been adequately studied enough to be certain it provides real relief while not also harming patients in the long term.

Plus, Hamilton said Vicker's bill requires research, while Madsen's doesn't.