SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would allow local groups to research medical marijuana has cleared another hurdle at the Utah Legislature.
Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, said he believes "every state that has (legalized marijuana) has gone about it exactly backward."
While recreational marijuana use is completely off the table for nearly all of Utah's conservative delegation, Daw said it isn't up to states or the people to decide what makes a medicine. He said doctors need reliable research on which to base prescriptions.
"We need to start this the right way," he said, adding that HB130 also contains a provision for an impartial panel to report the progress of research done throughout the state to lawmakers every fall.
Only federally approved institutional review boards can perform the research, he said.
"There's going to be no cooking and growing in the backyard," Daw told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday.
At least 23 states allow widespread use of medical and/or recreational marijuana, but lawmakers in Utah have all but closed the door to discussing it without first learning more about the plant and who it might benefit.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said he thinks the bill is "placating" Utahns who want to see progress.
"I just believe the stuff should be legalized," Dabakis said. "This is such a small step. What research could we do in Utah that would be the lynchpin to allow medical marijuana in the future?"
The Utah Medical Association and others are optimistic that research is the right first step.
"We can't prescribe this without the right answers," said Michelle McOmber, CEO of the Utah Medical Association.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve medical use of an entire plant for any condition, and it hasn't considered doing so for marijuana, which remains a Schedule I and highly restricted drug.
"This is a step in the right direction so questions can be answered and we can start helping Utah's sick and dying and give them alternative options," said Gabby Saunders, a resident who spoke to lawmakers at Thursday's meeting.
The bill has already cleared the House and will head to the Senate floor for further consideration.