Laura Seitz
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, addresses legislators in the House of Representatives on the first day of the Utah Legislature at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016.

The Utah Legislature is considering a push for medical marijuana in 2016. A new bill may open the doors for edible marijuana products containing THC, though smoking marijuana would remain illegal. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, has garnered support from Salt Lake County District Attorney Sam Gill, as well as the Libertas Institute, a libertarian nonprofit think tank in Lehi.

Competing legislation proposes a significantly more restrictive program that solely allows products that do not contain THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that makes users feel high, to treat a smaller range of ailments. Many in support of Madsen’s bill believe this effort is antithetical to the needs of countless patients who stand to benefit from medical marijuana.

Libertas, which participated in a press conference this week with Gill, Madsen and a number of patients lobbying for medical marijuana, maintains that its argument is rooted in the principles of individual freedom.

In an interview, Connor Boyack, president of Libertas, says he believes marijuana use is a victimless crime and a personal choice. Because of this, he asserts it is a waste of taxpayer money and law enforcement resources to investigate, prosecute and incarcerate ill patients.

Opponents of medical marijuana have expressed concerns about youth access to marijuana, widespread abuse and addiction. While stressing that these concerns are valid and shared among all parties involved, Boyack maintains confidence in Madsen’s bill to mitigate these possibilities. He draws upon the analogy of firearms, stating, “We don't deny access to firearms for law-abiding individuals merely because ... criminals use guns to harm others. The same logic applies to cannabis.”

Boyack says he understands the moral opposition to marijuana use that exists in much of Utah’s political constituency, but he says, “Truth is not decided based on how many people agree with it. This legislation ... simply allows for a highly regulated, limited amount of freedom for those who voluntarily choose this alternative treatment route.”

Justin Trombetti is a freelance journalist, musician and entrepreneur from Salt Lake City. He co-owns and operates Premier SEO Services, a Utah-based online marketing firm that specializes in generating quality online content for small businesses.