Republican Sen. Mark Madsen, of Eagle Mountain, addresses legislators during debate on a medical marijuana bill on the Senate floor at the Utah Capitol on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer, The Associated Press)

Broad Utah medical marijuana bill gets prelim Senate OK on narrow vote

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah state senators gave preliminary approval Monday to a medical marijuana proposal that would legalize edible, vapor and topical pot products.

Lawmakers voted 15-13 to advance the bill, saying the measure could help those with certain debilitating conditions who have not found relief through other medications.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, said the plan would allow tens of thousands of residents with those medical conditions to use the drug but would ban smoking it.

Madsen expects a final Senate vote Tuesday. If approved, the measure must still be passed by Utah’s House of Representatives.

During the debate Monday, he promised that the proposal is in no way a first step toward the state legalizing recreational marijuana.

“This is Utah,” he said. “It is not inevitable.”

The vast majority of states that have adopted medical marijuana programs have not adopted recreational marijuana programs, said Madsen.

The vote took place the same day The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints softened its stance on Madsen’s proposal. While stopping short of endorsing it, the church said added restrictions to the plan late last week were substantial improvements.

Church officials announced several weeks ago that they worried the plan would have unintended consequences.

Madsen said Monday that he’s added controls to make Utah’s proposal more restrictive than medical marijuana laws in other states.

Under his bill, dispensaries would be required to have a clinical, medical appearance, and all employees would be required to wear white lab coats. Edible marijuana products and their packaging would not be allowed to resemble candy or be designed in a way that’s appealing to children.

Sen. Deidre Henderson, a Republican from Spanish Fork, voted against the plan, saying they had not talked enough about the health effects of marijuana.

“It isn’t a harmless herb,” she said.

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement that the faith still believes Utah legislators should focus on allowing people who are suffering to use marijuana extracts while avoiding any increase in drug abuse.

The church had no objections to an alternative, much more restrictive plan that Utah lawmakers are also considering which would allow very restricted use of marijuana plant extracts that produce no psychoactive effects.

Utah already allows the marijuana extract, called cannabidiol, to be used by those with severe epilepsy, as long as they obtain the product from other states. It has low levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.

Rep. Brad Daw of Orem and Sen. Evan Vickers of Cedar City have proposed allowing it to be made and distributed in Utah under tight controls. Utah’s Senate voted 18-8 on Monday to approve that plan and advance it to the House of Representatives.

Some pushing for expanded access to marijuana as a medical treatment argue that it’s not enough. They’ve said their health conditions won’t qualify under the plan from Daw and Vickers or that they need treatment from products with higher levels of THC.