Senate Bill 259, a bill aimed at legalizing medical marijuana in the state of Utah, has been narrowly defeated in the state Senate. With a final vote of 15-14, it was Senate President Wayne Niederhauser who cast the last vote in opposition.
According to The Washington Times, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mark Madsen, vowed to continue working on legalizing medical marijuana in Utah but also expressed disappointment in his colleagues. “I am disheartened by the fear that seems to be the underlying theme of the opposition.”
As with most marijuana bills that go down in defeat, the opposition’s underlying argument was concern regarding the unintended consequences of the bill. Speaking with KSL, Republican Sen. Todd Weiler said he was concerned that the bill would be “an open door policy for abuse.”
Weiler, who is not a doctor, went on to make the unsubstantiated claim that 92 percent of all patients use medical marijuana for pain and that SB 259 would prevent law enforcement from arresting methamphetamine and cocaine users that had a medical marijuana card.
It is unknown whether or not Weiler understands what the term “medical marijuana” actually means. What is known is that despite the misgivings of their representatives, voters in Utah overwhelmingly support medical marijuana.
According to a poll conducted by UtahPolicy.com, 66 percent of Utah’s residents are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. This is in keeping with a national CBS News poll which found that 86 percent of Americans favor legalizing medical marijuana.
Still, with such a close vote you cannot rule out medical marijuana coming to Utah in the future. Not all of the senators that voted against SB 259 are opposed to medical marijuana. “A no vote doesn’t mean you aren’t intrigued with the idea,” Sen. Evan Vickers told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Many of us are, me included.”
Vickers explained that the reason he voted against the bill was due to zoning and other regulatory objections. For example, Madsen had claimed that his bill would give the responsibility of handling medical marijuana cards to the Department of Commerce. However, when the final bill hit the floor, it assigned the responsibility to four different agencies.
We would all like to see another medical marijuana market open up, but conversely no one wants to be tangled in a messy regulatory framework. A rewritten bill stands a better chance of picking up the extra vote needed to win; and despite his hesitation, KSL reported that House Speaker Greg Hughes has said that a medical marijuana bill would receive a “good hearing” if passed in the Senate.
Although SB 259 failed to pass, it has succeeded in starting a serious conversation about medical marijuana in Utah.