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Medical Marijuana Bill Advances in Utah Senate

A bill that would legalize marijuana for medical use in Utah is making its way through the state legislature. (Wikipedia Commons)
A bill that would legalize marijuana for medical use in Utah is making its way through the state legislature. (Wikipedia Commons)
February 24, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY - A bill to legalize medical marijuana is set for a final vote this week in the Utah Senate after getting preliminary approval by just two votes.

The measure, Senate Bill 73, allows qualifying medical patients to use marijuana in edible, extract and oil form to treat illness.

Maggie Ellinger-Locke, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project, says the measure still has several hurdles ahead of it.

"This bill is a pharma-comprehensive bill that would actually establish a medical marijuana program in the state of Utah," she says. "Multiple, multiple votes need to occur, so we're hopeful we will be able to secure passage with the next vote."

The bill's sponsor, Republican Mark Madsen, offered and passed several amendments to make the bill more palatable to its opponents, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

If the bill clears the Senate, it moves on to the Utah House for more hearings and more votes.

A second, more narrow bill that would only legalize use of a single component of marijuana, also passed the Senate.

In February, a poll showed 61 percent of Utah residents supported legalizing the drug as medicine.

Ellinger-Locke says her group is finding many states not previously seen as liberal are beginning to see the benefits of medical cannabis.

"There is a long list of medical conditions that medical marijuana is incredibly helpful for," says Ellinger-Locke. "And it is time for more conservative states to embrace the future."

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

However, the federal government still considers it illegal, though the Justice Department hasn't prosecuted anyone in a state where the drug is legal for medical use.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT