State funding in place for medical marijuana studies

Salt Lake City, Utah- (ABC4 Utah) - With just a few days left in the legislative session, funding is in place for medical marijuana studies in the state of Utah.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill say the studies will provide crucial information, and possibly pave the road to legalizing medical marijuana. However, advocates are moving forward with a plan to take the decision out of the hands of the legislature all together.

Coming into the legislative session, medical marijuana was expected to be one of the more heated debates, but it fizzled out early on. Lawmakers decided to abandon a bill to legalize use, in favor of studying the potential benefits.

“This would be powerful, in terms of going forward and looking at things. Legislators just want to do the right thing, I believe, and they want the evidence to do so,” said Senator Brian Shiozawa, (R) District 8.

Shiozawa has been working to secure funding to do just that. He says the state budget will include $500,000 for two studies.

They will look into medical marijuana as an alternative to opioid pain therapy, and the impact it could have on cancer patients.

The studies will be done locally, conducted by USTAR at the University of Utah, the Huntsman Cancer Institute and more.

Shiozawa, a medical doctor says he sees potential.

“I don't want to be biased, I want to be scientific about this and say does this work or not, but anecdotally the things we've seen look pretty good.”

Advocates for legal use say the time is now.

“There have been hundreds, there have been thousands of peer reviewed, qualified studies that have been done. Doing another couple of studies, and making Utah tax payers foot the bill is going to be a drop in the bucket compared to what's already out there,” said Connor Boyack, President of Libertas Institute Utah.

Boyack says thousands of Utah patients can't wait. That's why supporters are moving forward with a ballot initiative. The goal is to put the question to voters in 2018.

“We are never going to get there by studying it one piece at a time, little by little. We need a broader conversation, and that's what the initiative will allow., said Boyack.

Shiozawa says previous studies are incomplete, or biased. That's why he thinks this is the right step for Utah. He hopes to begin the studies in the next few months. He'd also like to secure another $500,000 for more studies.

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