SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns strongly favor legalizing medical marijuana but even more strongly oppose allowing recreational marijuana, a new poll shows.
A UtahPolicy.com survey found 63 percent of residents support licensed doctors being able to prescribe marijuana for medical use, while 35 percent oppose it.
The poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, also showed 77 percent of Utahns oppose legalizing marijuana for recreational use, while 22 percent favor making it legal.
State lawmakers last year rejected Republican Sen. Mark Madsen's SB259, his first attempt to legalize medical marijuana use for certain medical conditions.
This year, Madsen sponsored a second bill, SB73, but the bill also failed to garner enough support even after multiple revisions, with lawmakers adamant about taking the time to draft the right regulations.
A competing bill sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers, SB89, also endured multiple revisions and won support of the Utah Senate and a House committee this year, but failed to make it to a vote on the House floor.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last year urged a cautious approach to the issue, particularly with regard to access, distribution, control and potential harm of the hallucinogenic compound that is found in marijuana. In a statement, it raised no objection to use of marijuana extracts to help those who are suffering as long as it is regulated.
Fifty percent of those polled who are self-declared "very active" in the LDS Church said they favor legalizing marijuana. Forty-seven percent oppose legalization, while 3 percent are left undecided.
Monday's poll didn't surprise Sen. Brian Shiozawa, who successfully sponsored legislation this year that called for the rescheduling of marijuana from Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug, which would allow formal research of the drug.
"Most Utahns are very reasonable; they recognize there must be better alternatives to opioids," Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, said. "There's got to be a better way."
Turner Bitton, president of the Drug Policy Project of Utah, said Monday's poll confirmed what multiple other surveys have found suggesting public support for medical marijuana.
"But," he said, "the devil's in the details."
He said while there is wide support for medical marijuana legislation on both the public and legislative front, what lawmakers are grappling with is creating the right regulations.
"The Legislature and the public at large is pretty overwhelmingly supportive of the issue, but we want to do it right," Bitton said. "We want to keep it out of the hands of kids and avoid the pitfalls that Colorado has."
Bitton said lawmakers also share Utahns' concerns with recreational use, which is why they're supportive of a medical marijuana bill that would have tight regulations and wouldn't lead to broader legalization measures.
"We obviously want to help as many people as possible right out of the gate, but we also want to make sure we get the legal and institutional frameworks set up correctly," he said.
Bitton said he's been working with lawmakers to revamp SB89. He anticipates a version will likely embody a "compromise" between Madsen's aim to treat more people and Vickers' regulatory approach.
Medical marijuana was a topic of dissention between Gov. Gary Herbert and his Democratic challenger Mike Weinholtz in their debate last week.
Herbert said scientific research is needed to back the anecdotal claims that it's helpful, but Weinholtz said he stands with Utahns who support legalization. The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah said in July that it had an open investigation into Weinholtz's wife using marijuana. He said his wife uses cannabis for chronic pain from arthritis and ongoing nerve problems.
Contributing: Dennis Romboy