Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, watches from the house floor at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Feb. 18, 2015. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

He’s ready to put everything on the table for Utah’s medical marijuana bill

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah medical marijuana proponents have found a new legislative sponsor as they gear up to take another run next year at pushing through a measure to make pot legal for people with certain medical conditions.

Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, said Wednesday that he plans to sponsor a medical marijuana bill that combines the best parts of the two competing cannabis proposals that died during the 2016 session. He is open to suggestions, but he envisions it helping people with a wide array of medical conditions and having a THC component, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.

“Everything at this point in time should be on the table,” Froerer said.

One proposal from last legislative session would have allowed those with certain debilitating conditions to use a cannabis extract with very low levels of the plant’s psychoactive components, while the more comprehensive bill would have made edibles and other marijuana products legal in Utah for those with chronic pain.

Froerer has helped to launch a task force with other lawmakers and interest groups to determine what his proposal should look like. Members are expected to start meeting later this summer.

Utah already allows a marijuana extract, called cannabidiol, to be used by those with severe epilepsy, as long as they obtain it from other states.

Christine Stenquist, the executive director of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, said she hopes the new piece of legislation is similar to the more comprehensive bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mark Madsen last session.

Stenquist, 44, has had firsthand experience with medical marijuana. She said the drug allowed her to have an active life after a brain tumor caused her so much pain that she was bedridden for 16 years.

“I’m walking proof that something is happening,” she said.

In case Froerer’s bill fails, Stenquist said she and her organization have already started helping to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in 2018.

They plan to soon start collecting the thousands of signatures supporting medical marijuana that are needed for the ballot initiative.

In addition to the signatures, the organization would also need to get a legal review and hold seven town hall meetings around the state. State law requires that 10 percent of the voters in 26 of Utah’s 29 Senate districts sign a petition for a ballot initiative.

Some Utah lawmakers have said they worry that putting the issue before the voters could mean the state ends up with a broader medical marijuana law as compared with the legislative route.

Froerer said that if he and the rest of the medical marijuana task force can’t come up with a proposal that receives widespread support, he may support a ballot initiative instead.

“If we continue to have too wide a gap between what the groups want to have happen, then I think it’s in the best interest of the citizens and all the other parties just to let it go to the initiative and let the public vote on it,” he said.