When the Utah Senate was deliberating the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, I was returning from a legislative conference that had been planned and paid for months before the special session being called. While my absence was unavoidable, I regret that I wasn’t there to give my constituents a voice by giving this speech during the debate.
“I joined the Senate just three weeks before the 2016 legislative session. Although there were many issues I was pretty well-versed in, medical cannabis was not one of them. As the session approached, it was clear that this was a divisive issue and one that was important to many people in the district I represent. I talked with constituents, read research and sought the advice of experts.
“Since then, I have voted for every medical cannabis bill that has been before me as a senator. In my three years of service in the Utah Senate, I’ve become a stronger advocate and supporter for the patients who need this medicine. As a citizen, and though I had concerns, I ultimately decided to support Prop 2.
“The choice before us today is whether patients will be better served by leaving in place Prop 2 as it was passed by the voters or taking a slightly different approach that didn’t go before voters. Neither option is perfect. There are aspects of both I don’t particularly like. Called upon by our governor to make a choice, I’d like to explain why I favor passing the bill before us, and why other supporters of a robust and lasting medical cannabis program should also.
“The Utah Medical Cannabis Act represents the best chance our state has for lasting and successful implementation of medical cannabis. This has been a divisive issue in Utah for at least a decade, and the passage of Prop 2 didn’t make that any better. While the idea of medical cannabis regularly polls with public support in the 70s, Prop 2 passed with under 53 percent of the vote. While that’s a majority, it is not a strong one.
“If Prop 2 stands, we will leave in place a program that even its supporters admit has real problems. With a bare majority of support, strong and unified opposition, and known problems, it will immediately face amendments before next year’s session, before a majority of legislators representing districts that didn’t support Prop 2’s passage. That uncertainty is not the situation I want patients to face going forward.
“This bill, like Prop 2, contains an imperfect but workable program to produce, regulate and distribute medical cannabis to patients. There are parts of this agreement that I like better than Prop 2 and parts I like less. But the best thing this has going for it is that it has support from and ownership of most, if not all, the organizations and people involved in the debate: The Libertas Institute, Utah Patients Coalition, Utah Medical Association, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Episcopal Diocese, among others. And if this passes as I expect it to, every Republican in the Legislature will own it, too. I believe this gives patients and doctors the most solid footing possible today and moving forward.
“Just like Prop 2, this agreement will face issues and details that will need to be addressed in the future. We won’t be working to address problems with a controversial program, passed with a slim majority, failing in most counties and legislative districts, with strong opponents representing about half the state seeking to undermine it. Instead, we will be working from a position of broad support from diverse groups that all have an incentive to repair and improve the program and strengthen it for patients in the long run.”
I hope people who are currently frustrated that Prop 2 was amended will consider the political reality it would have faced with consistent efforts to undo or undermine it.
Today, we have in place a sustainable program that will start with strong support and will continue to get stronger. That is the ideal situation if, like me, you want a workable and sustainable program to provide patients access to this medicine. That’s what Utah patients deserve.
Lincoln Fillmore, a Republican from South Jordan, represents District 10 in the Utah Senate.