OPINION — On the grand stage of national politics, Utah is little more than a bit player, a mere blip on the political radar.
This conservative outpost is virtually inconsequential when it comes to presidential elections or trend-setting legislation and is fairly well regarded by most political analysts as a theocracy that takes its marching orders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It’s a place where the beer is weak and conservative politics are strong. Very strong.
It is also a place that could have a surprising impact when the Legislature convenes Jan. 25.
When Legislators meet for the next session they will debate two bills regarding the legal use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
One bill, sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw (R-Orem) and supported by Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City), would legalize the use of cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound derived from the cannabis plant, for certain medicinal use for patients with HIV/AIDS, certain cancers and epilepsy.
Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) is drafting a broader bill that would legalize the use of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, for medical use. Madsen came up one vote shy of passing a bill legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes last session.
It is expected that his new bill will not be as limited in scope as the Daw-Vickers proposal, offering relief to many more patients. On the compassion level, it ranks much higher.
Either way, it would be a stunning legislative event for Utah and, undoubtedly, open the doors to wider legalization. There isn’t a state in the Union that desires being thought of as less progressive than Utah, the thought being, “If Utah can approve this, so can we.”
At least a dozen states, and quite possibly more, will see voter initiatives next November regarding cannabis legalization — from medicinal to full-out recreational purposes.
If the major polls are accurate, look for most, if not all, to pass despite an attempt that failed in Ohio last month because savvy voters realized that the proposal was a bad one that would have allowed only the 10 people who financed the proposal to grow, distribute and profit from the cannabis trade.
We are also seeing remarkable changes in attitudes worldwide where cannabis is being decriminalized at a rapid pace. Closest to home, Canada and Mexico are making rapid strides to full legalization, prompting an abrupt policy shift by the U.S. State Department.
“It’s up to the people of each nation to decide policies,” John Kirby, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, said shortly after the first bench of the Mexican supreme court ruled by a 4-1 vote that sections of the country’s health laws are invalid.
The justices found that the laws violated the “right to the free development of personality” and were, thus, unconstitutional. The judgment applies only to the four plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit who are now free to grow and consume as much cannabis as they desire legally.
Almost immediately, the court was flooded with similar filings. If the same ruling comes from four of those hearings, it will negate the laws nationally and lift prohibition.
Canada, meanwhile, has elected a new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who promised to remove all prohibitions on cannabis “right away.”
Both countries already have decriminalized cannabis — Canada allows cannabis cultivation, use, possession or purchase from a licensed dispensary for medicinal purposes and Mexico decriminalized possession of up to five grams for personal use.
But, neither has taken further steps because, historically, the U.S. has held the upper hand by having the ability to suspend or halt trade and foreign aid dollars to any country that even whispered that it may legalize cannabis.
That power is evaporating, however, now that Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and the District of Columbia have ended their prohibition and allow for not only medicinal but recreational use as well. California is set to lead the next wave of legalizing recreational use, which, according to many political analysts, could result in federal legalization.
But, Utah is not Canada, Mexico or California, so expect heated debate in the Legislature, where Vickers has dug in his heels, saying “I believe the potential is there for CBD, but not for THC,” and that he is not “interested in even talking about legalizing THC.”
“If we’re talking medical cannabis like they have in Colorado, Michigan, California, those other states? That’s a step too far for me,” he said.
Madsen sees his measure as having the greatest hope for those whose chronic suffering is currently being medicated with dangerous opioids that take at least seven Utah lives a month from overdose and the countless others who end up hooked on the powerful medications.
“I’m interested in helping as many people as we can,” Madsen said. “I believe that the people of Utah are at least as smart as the people of 23 other states that have legalized medicinal marijuana.”
He asked that the Legislature “push past generations of propaganda and misleading information and get to the reality about this substance.”
Look, the bottom line on all of this is that there has been a lot of misinformation and fear linked to cannabis use — whether for medicinal or recreational purposes — over the years.
I certainly don’t expect the Legislature to even approach a bill that would allow for legalization for recreational use. It just won’t happen.
But, I don’t think it would be too much to ask for the Legislature to realize that cannabis has tremendous medicinal value to those with serious disease and chronic health issues that would otherwise leave them at the mercy of drugs that are logarithmically more dangerous than cannabis and that can lead to addiction or death.
It all settles around the concept of compassion. How compassionate is the Utah Legislature?
We’ll find out next month.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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