Utah Senate Passes Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana, Reject Federal Prohibition

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Mar. 12, 2016) – A Utah bill that would legalize medical marijuana and block in practice the federal prohibition of the same passed the state Senate yesterday.

Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) introduced Senate Bill 73 (SB73) last month. The legislation sets up a framework that would allow qualifying patients to legally obtain and use medicinal cannabis products. Utah residents meeting criteria outlined in bill would be able to obtain a medical marijuana card. The legislation also sets up a licensing program for medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.

The Senate approved the measure 17-12.

The fact that a marijuana bill has advanced this far in a very socially conservative state reveals just how far the movement to end marijuana prohibition has come. Connor Boyack, founder of the Utah-based Libertas Institute has worked tirelessly in support of this bill.

“Utah is leading with a conservative approach to medical marijuana that can hopefully not only provide access to Utahns, but set an example to—and put pressure on—other red states, especially in the Bible Belt, to follow our lead,” he said. “We’ve been able to compellingly demonstrate that the current policy is extremely flawed and punitive; patients are not criminals, and should not be treated as such—nor should taxpayers being forced to subsidize the investigation, prosecution, and incarceration of people who pose no threat to society.”

Despite federal marijuana prohibition, measures such as SB73 remain perfectly legal, and there is little if anything the feds can do to stop them in practice.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

Passage of this bill would partially remove one layer of law prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in Utah, but federal prohibition would remain in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While this Utah bill would not alter federal law, they would take a step toward stopping the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing the state laws, the Utah legislature would remove some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

If the Utah legislature passes SB73, the Beehive State would join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically ending the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Boldin said.

NEXT UP

SB73 will now move on to the House for further consideration.