SALT LAKE CITY — Utah researchers would be able study cannabis for medicinal use without federal approval under a bill that unanimously cleared a House committee Monday.
"This is the first step in what I think is the right policy direction for this state," said Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, sponsor of HB130.
Daw said states that have "decreed" marijuana a medicine through legislation or initiative have gone about it backward. Studies need to precede deciding what is medicine and what is not, he said.
State lawmakers last week took legalizing medical marijuana off the table this year. Instead, they're considering bills to allow studies and to create a production and distribution framework should use become legal in the future.
HB130 would permit the handling and processing of marijuana and/or cannabis in Utah for researchers conducting an institutional review board-approved study. The University of Utah and other organizations have such boards in place.
Karen Buchi, a U. pediatrician who oversees a cannabis and opioid task force, told the House Health and Human Services Committee that university researchers are currently studying marijuana under federally approved licenses. She said the legislation would not change their ability to do research and they still must follow federal guidelines.
Daw said researchers wouldn't need a federal approval but could conduct studies under state law if the bill passes.
Michelle McComber, CEO of the Utah Medical Association, told the committee that lawmakers or the public should not decide what is medicine. Medical cannabis must go through an Federal Drug Administration approval process.
"Marijuana, right now, is not medicine," McComber said.
The Utah Academy of Family Physicians also supports the study-first approach. Jennifer Dailey, the group's executive director, said doctors don't want to be in the position to prescribe cannabis without knowing what conditions it would treat, how effective it would be and how it interacts with other medications.
Some legislators expressed concern that medical marijuana researchers or study participants could be prosecuted under federal law.
Buchi said she's not aware of law enforcement going after anyone involved in a study.