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Medical Marijuana Bill Squeaks By in Close Utah Senate Vote

Andrea Smardon
Self-described "medical refugee" Enedina Stanger looks on from her wheelchair as the Senate debates medical marijuana legislation. (February 22, 2016)

Utah got one step closer to legalized medical marijuana Monday. In a close vote, the Utah Senate gave preliminary approval to a broad cannabis bill, but advocates are not optimistic the bill will make it past the next vote.

Republican Senator Howard Stephenson spoke in favor of Senate Bill 73, which would legalize the use of marijuana extracts for several chronic and debilitating conditions. Stephenson said marijuana has been unfairly demonized in the US. He pointed out that there are hundreds of deaths from opiate overdoses every year in Utah, while there are zero deaths from marijuana.

“Let’s give these families, these individuals, not a right for recreation, that’s not what we’re talking about. Let’s give them a right to try when their family members are suffering so badly,” Stephenson said. "Let’s don’t make them go to Nevada or Colorado to get this opportunity to ease their suffering.”

Republican Senator Deidre Henderson said that lawmakers were ignoring the potential harms of marijuana, particularly for young people.

“To suggest that there is nothing wrong with taking this drug is concerning to me, and I just want to caution everybody as we have this dialogue that we cannot just say this is harmless and meaningless and it only is good for you. That is not the case,” Henderson said.

Senators allowed the measure to move forward in a vote of 15 to 13. But based on the debate, advocates like Christine Stenquist were pessimistic about the bill’s chances in the next Senate vote

“It’s still fear-mongering that’s going on,” she says. “I hear the concerns, but I’m not seeing people come to the table to negotiate.” Stenquist is heading up the effort for a ballot initiative, which she says will move forward if SB 73 fails to pass in the legislature.

Meanwhile, Senators approved a more limited bill which would allow for the use of hemp oil only. That bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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