SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker says he's considering drafting legislation that would offer a route to legalization of medicinal cannabis that's different from what's being proposed to Utah voters in a ballot initiative.
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, told the Deseret News he's "just worried about what's going to happen (if the initiative passes), and that's why I've opened up a bill file."
"Too many people are trying to make it simple and say, 'Hey, don't worry about it. Vote for it. It's going to help people. You're going to like it when it's all there,'" Perry said.
He later added, "I want to talk to people and say: What is an alternative? What is the best (thing) we can come up with? What would make the people of the state of Utah happy in this process? What's going to fix what people are concerned about in all these polls (about medical marijuana)?"
Perry, a lieutenant with the Utah Highway Patrol, had recently opened a bill request, which so far is not finalized and has no formally drafted text available to the public, named "Medical Cannabis Amendments."
Perry was asked whether he is specifically considering legislation that would include measures legalizing cannabis for patients on a wide scale, similar to the initiative, but also would implement potentially strict restrictions on how the drug would have to be classified federally before such legalization could take place.
"Maybe," he said. "I don't know if I want to go that far. If I could make it so the initiative was going to truly help people who have a medical need and not open the window and open the door to recreational (use) … then yeah, I would probably do something like that."
Perry claims the language of the initiative leaves the state vulnerable to widespread recreational use, as does Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, who is introducing a series of cannabis legislation this year focused on issued such as promoting research of the plant and opening access to terminally ill patients.
Daw had earlier Friday confirmed a bill was being considered that would amount to an "SB54-style move," referring to a 2014 bill that pre-empted a Count My Vote ballot initiative by incorporating a portion of its language.
"I do know that there's been some thought by a couple of representatives to do a SB54-style move where they basically take the language of the initiative and then say something like none of this goes into effect until cannabis is FDA-approved," Daw told the Deseret News.
The Drug Enforcement Administration currently lists cannabis as a Schedule I subtance, placing it among "drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," a designation that entails strict regulations over how it can be researched. The Food and Drug Administration likewise states on its website that it has "not approved marijuana as a safe and effective drug for any indication."
Asked whether his bill might require that cannabis be classified as a Schedule IV drug before it is broadly legalized for medical use, as had been brought up as a possibility in a recent Utah Policy story, Perry said, "I'm open to talking to people about it, sure."
Perry said he would want any legislation he passes to be in harmony with federal laws regarding cannabis, rather than testing what the state can technically have overlooked.
"I'm not one of those that says, 'Yeah, let's go break the law,'" he said.
Christine Stenquist, founder of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, blasted the idea of waiting for such a designation, called a rescheduling, saying there is no indication if or when that would happen.
"Under the current administration, we see no interest in rescheduling at this time. There haven't even been whispers of rescheduling," Stenquist said. "If anything, Attorney General (Jeff) Sessions is cracking down. To tell patients to wait for rescheduling is unrealistic."
Cannabis advocates have been lobbying for the drug to be rescheduled since 1971, she said, and any bill attempting to replace the ballot initiative "smacks of a desperate move by someone who's listening to the voice inside their head and not the voices of thousands of their constituents."
Utah Patients Coalition Director DJ Schanz responded to the news of a potential replacement bill by saying his group is not interested in negotiating with legislators on a compromise.
"We are moving forward with our efforts to give patients access to the medicine they need and that the public wants," Schanz said in a statement. "These efforts by unscrupulous politicians and bureaucrats to undermine the political process and the public will will fortunately be viewed as parlor tricks from a desperate legislative body to put their thumbprint on an issue and patients that they've ignored and kicked down the road.
"This isn't Count My Vote in 2014, and we aren't playing chicken. This will be on the ballot in November of 2018 for the people of Utah to decide on, regardless of the shenanigans being toyed with."
In 2014, SB54 was what supporters described as a compromise between sides who differed on how candidates ought to be able to get on the ballot in Utah, after the Count My Vote campaign sought to replace the caucus and convention candidate selection process in political primaries.
That process ultimately stayed, but a path to the ballot box through signature gathering was also added as one option for would-be primary candidates.
A ballot initiative similar to Count My Vote, called Keep My Voice, is being pursued again this year.
The Utah Patients Coalition ballot initiative text includes language saying it "overrides, replaces, takes precedent over, and otherwise governs in place of any conflicting or contradictory legislation passed during a general session of the Utah Legislature before enactment of this law."
But it wasn't clear Friday exactly how that clause could affect the efficacy of the initiative or its pre-emptive bill if both are ultimately passed.8 comments on this story
Perry said any challenges potentially given in court following the bill's passage would have to be carefully considered as part of legislators' decision-making process on the measure — even as it is still being drafted.
Daw was asked whether he would be supportive of legislation attempting to supplant the medical cannabis ballot initiative.
"I'd have to think about it a lot. I will say this, I'm not a big fan of the initiative," he responded. "(But) I'm not convinced this is the right way to defang it."
The representative said the measure would be "not just a message bilI; it basically becomes a we-don't-like-the-initiative-at-all bill."