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Liquor, Weed and More

... it's Friday at the Utah Capitol!


  • Derek Carlisle

Medical pot:

Roll it up and smoke it. But first, evaluate it in clinical trials.

Utah lawmakers want more studies on medical marijuana before they legalize it. And they want the research on its potential to help patients with cancer, chronic pain and PTSD to come out of the Beehive State.

A handful of Republican senators said they also will push legislation detailing how the state would regulate medical pot if it does move toward legalization.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, a physician and Republican from Salt Lake City, said existing studies pointing to marijuana’s potential are largely anecdotal and not strong enough to support its legalization in Utah.

Shiozawa envisions three separate studies tracking 60-100 people that would cost $350,000 each in state money.

“If they’re done the right way, then we will get that vital that will answer” about the benefits and harms of the drug, Shiozawa said.

Utah lawmakers also believe they are unique in driving research on the drug before legalizing it.

“No other state has taken this approach” Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, a Sandy Republican, said.

Shiozawa believes if the research measure passes, studies could start this year. But that remains to be seen. Getting federal approval to study the substance can take years.

The Legislature last year urged federal regulators to make pot easier to study by classifying it as less dangerous than it is currently. Now, it’s in the same category as heroin and ecstasy. The 2016 resolution calling for the change was symbolic and does not have teeth.

The proposals will need to win approval from the Utah Senate, House and the governor to become law. They have not yet had a hearing.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says “we ought to put money forth so we can do the appropriate research … We’ve wasted a lot of time by not doing this a decade ago.” Herbert also said he has concerns about federal regulators declining to enforce criminal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the substance. He added the law should be enforced or taken off the books.


Utah's signature liquor law is poised to fall.

Herbert says he expects the Zion Curtain mandate to be repealed this session. The governor made the comment in a news conference Friday, saying the barriers designed to hide bartending in restaurants should be replaced by more “proactive” efforts to reduce underage drinking.

Herbert, a Republican, says broader liquor reforms are “on the table” this year. Privatizing state liquor distribution and stores still is out of the question, he says, because much of the state’s revenue for prevention programs aimed at youngsters comes from liquor sales and taxes.

Sen. Luz Escamilla, the Democrat from Salt Lake City, says it’s important to for lawmakers to reconsider how the state liquor agency is managed and funded as the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control asks for more money to address chronic understaffing.

A proposal to remove the 7-foot barriers is being drafted and has not been scheduled for a hearing.

Trump’s proposed wall against Mexico:

Support for the wall hit a wall in Utah.

Lawmakers Friday did not endorse President Donald Trump’s plan to pay for a wall on the Mexican border by imposing a 20 percent tariff on the neighboring nation. Niederhauser said Mexico isn’t just important to Utah for business opportunities, but also provides important cultural exchanges with the state.

“I’m glad we’re having a conversation about trade,” added Escamilla. Utah’s relationship with the nation is much bigger than just the border, she said.

Gov. Herbert said he believed plans for the wall should give way to broader immigration reform for people seeking to move to the United States.