Winning the Battle; Losing the War: The Federal Government’s Hindrance of Medical Marijuana Legalization

Feb 20, 2016 | Labs Blog

By Kylie Orme for

This week, the Utah Senate will vote on legalizing medical marijuana in the Beehive state. Currently, Utah only allows the extract form, cannabidiol, to be used by those with severe epilepsy—so long as the patients obtain the extract from another state. As Utah is one of 17 states that allow cannabidiol use without allowing broader use of medical marijuana, two Republican lawmakers are calling for a change by way of two, distinct bills.

One of the proposed bills,[1] co-sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City) and Rep. Brad Daw (R-Orem), allows cannabidoil to be used to “treat a long list of diseases and conditions including cancer, HIV/AIDS, and epilepsy.”[2] The second bill,[3] sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) allows THC products to be used to treat similar medical issues and also creates a state-regulated network of marijuana-cultivation facilities and dispensaries.[4] The key difference between the two bills is that the second bill allows products with THC—the hallucinogenic chemical in marijuana—to be used. The first bill does not, arguably rendering the bill useless under such a restricted alternative.

While many see the benefits of legalizing medical marijuana in part or in whole, an obvious obstacle to passing legislation has been local opposition and groups urging caution, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the American Medical Association.[5] And they aren’t the only ones. On a national scale, legal scholars, researchers, and legislators are just as conflicted over two fundamental issues regarding the legalization of medical marijuana: 1) Medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law and 2) There has been little additional testing regarding the effect of marijuana on lung function, adolescent brain development, and traffic accidents—just to name a few.[6]

The federal government is the common denominator for both of those hang-ups. First, marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, even though the federal government has announced their intentions to give state legislatures and governors “a great deal of reassurance” regarding medical marijuana laws.[7] This creates a myriad of issues, but mostly begs the questions as to why federal overhaul isn’t a priority? If medical marijuana can and does help many people with serious illness across the nation, why is the federal government so hesitant to change their official stance?

This leads to the second issue, research. Many of those who oppose legalizing medical marijuana do so based on the opinion of many medical practitioners, including the American Medical Association, who have stated that further research on the effects of marijuana is necessary before legalization.[8] However, further research is essentially held hostage by the federal government due to the fact that they maintain a monopoly on research-grade marijuana, forcing scientists to seek approval from the FDA, DEA, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (“NIDA”) before conducting research. Id.

So if you want someone to blame—blame your federal government. It seems that medical marijuana is just another issue highlighting the disconnect between federal and state law. So while the battle may be won for many this week in Utah, the real war will be against the federal laws that hinder any meaningful legal and medical progress.

Kylie Orme (for webpage)Kylie Orme is currently a second-year law student at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, where she is a member of the Utah Law Review. She graduated from Brigham Young University in 2012 with a B.A. in Advertising. Kylie plans to pursue a career in health law, specifically working with the law as applicable to innovative biotechnology. During her 1L summer, she clerked at Snow, Christensen & Martineau, where she will return for her 2L summer. In her spare time, she enjoys woodworking, traveling the world with her husband, and reading fiction novels.


[1] Medical Cannabidiol Amendments,

[2] Ben Winslow, Utah State Legislature to consider two medical marijuana bills, Fox 13 Salt Lake City (Nov. 18, 2015),

[3] Medical Cannabis Amendments,

[4] Robert Gehrke, Most Utah voters support legal medicial marijuana; guv says it’s possible, Salt Lake Tribune (Jan. 21, 2016),

[5] Church Urges ‘Cautious Approach’ on Medical marijuana Issue in Utah, Mormon Newsroom (Feb. 12, 2016),

[6]  J. Herbie DiFonzo, J.D., Ph.D. & Ruth C. Stern, J.D., M.S.W., Divided We Stand: Medical Marijuana and Federalism, Health Law., June 2015, at 17.

[7] Feds to Ease Crackdown on Medical Marijuana, 17 Andrews Health L. Litig. Rep. 6 (2009).

[8] Cannabis for Medical Use,