SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah House of Representatives passed a resurrected bill that would make the state grow medical marijuana for terminally ill patients.
House Bill 197, sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, died on a narrow vote last week but was resurrected on Tuesday. He insisted the legislation was a necessary companion to House Bill 195, which gives terminally ill patients a "right to try" medical marijuana.
"This bill becomes the way to supply a genuine cannabis medicine for both those programs. We need to pass this bill if we want to have patients the ability to try both under right to try and under research," he told his colleagues in the House.
The bill requires the Utah Dept. of Agriculture and Food to grow marijuana that would be dispensed to patients under the "right to try." While some lawmakers flipped their votes this time around, others remained concerned.
"We expect to follow the order of law and with passage of this, we would be in noncompliance with federal law," said Rep. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green.
Rep. Daw's bills are being run ahead of a potential ballot initiative that would greatly expand who can use medical marijuana in Utah. The initiative would have a variety of different treatment methods and expand it to a number of patient conditions. Signature gathering is under way to get it before voters on the November ballot.
The ballot initiative was top of mind as lawmakers debated HB197.
"There is evidence of unintended consequences that occur if you open up these floodgates all at once, or too quickly," said House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, announced he was flipping his vote to a "nay." He said he was throwing his support behind the ballot initiative.
"I’m suspicious and concerned that what this bill really is is an attempt to undermine the ability of the people of the state of Utah to weigh in on this in the form of a ballot initiative," he said.
On a very close vote, HB197 passed 38-32 and now goes to the Senate (bills need at least 38 votes to pass the House).
Lawmakers have expressed worry about the impact the ballot initiative would have on public policy in Utah. Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he planned to advocate against it.
"I think we’re going to point out maybe some of the flaws that were in the initiative and it really goes a lot farther than what we would ever do as a legislature," he told reporters on Tuesday.
Medical marijuana ballot initiative supporters said the bills would not stop their work. Tom Paskett with Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) said he believed the bills were being run so the Utah State Legislature could say it has done something about the issue.
"The ballot initiative offers far more comprehensive coverage for medical cannabis patients. So that’s ultimately what we’re aiming for," he said.