Long time Utah Senator Orrin Hatch sponsored a bill earlier this year called the Meds Act. The bill, if passed, would reschedule marijuana federally so that scientists can more safely research the medical properties of the plant. However, Utah officials have called for the state’s own research on cannabis and are awaiting a report due mid next year to help officials decide if state legal marijuana is right for Utah residents.
More research is always good, but there is some skepticism that no rigorous research could be conducted in such a short period time that could produce any results outside of what we already know. Are officials in Utah using this study on cannabis as a delay tactic on the looming legalization of medical marijuana in Utah?
SALT LAKE CITY — Initial findings from state-funded research into the medical qualities of marijuana could be presented to lawmakers as early as the legislative session at the start of next year, according to the organization charged with carrying out the study.
“Hopefully there will be some preliminary data that can be shared during the legislative session this year,” Ivy Estabrooke, director of the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative, told the Deseret News.
DJ Schanz, director of the coalition, said he is optimistic that all needed signatures statewide will be collected by January, well before the April 15 ballot initiative deadline.
Is study needed?
Schanz views the state’s request for the study with deep skepticism, however, saying there are already “literally thousands of clinically studied reports” throughout the world that examine the medical benefits of cannabis.
“While we are not against studies and research, it needs to be in conjunction with having a legal path forward for patients,” he said. “It has to be in conjunction with ending prohibitive policies denying patients access.”
Schanz said he questions whether the state may be using the study as “a smokescreen,” an “excuse,” or “a delay tactic” in its reluctance to open access to medical cannabis for Utahns.
“The idea that Utah’s going to be on the forefront of any research is laughable and anything short of giving patients access is unacceptable. … They’re starting 20 years — in Israel’s case, actually 50 years — late on this,” Schanz said.
He was referring to Israel’s reputation as an international leader in cannabis research for several decades.
“We would be cautious to see this as anything other than as a (barrier) to giv(ing) patients access,” Schanz said. “If research is done in conjunction with access, we’re supportive. If it’s used as an excuse to continue prohibitive laws … we’re not supportive of it.”
He added it would be “just foolhardy” to subscribe to the idea that Utah’s own research could be the tipping point between knowing or not knowing enough about cannabis in order to make a decision about legalizing it.
But both Yurgelun-Todd and Renshaw say that upon closer examination, additional studies into marijuana as a medicine are critically important, despite the helpfulness of existing cannabis research throughout the world.
“There have been very few high quality placebo controlled trials of substances that are known to have a (consistent) content of THC or (CBD),” Renshaw said.
Yurgelun-Todd agreed, saying, “There are some nice studies, but there are not enough studies, or enough well-controlled studies” in the field of cannabis research. She said the study she and Renshaw are leading has the opportunity to significantly add to the body of work examining the drug.
“We’re hoping that we’ve designed a study that will actually enhance our knowledge base and show the important potential medication benefits of medical marijuana in pain prevention,” said Yurgelun-Todd, who is also director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory at the U.