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The Senate’s Highest Ranking Republican Just Endorsed Medical Marijuana

In a surprising and pun-filled press announcement, Senate President pro tempore Orin Hatch (R-UT) today proposed legislation that encourages research into the use of medical marijuana and makes it easier for medical researchers to get pot for testing.

“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” Hatch said. “Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana… To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”

The 83-years-old Hatch, who is third in line to the presidency behind the Vice President and Speaker of the House, is taking the lead in a bipartisan effort that even includes asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions – a hard-line anti-marijuana crusader – to “increase the national marijuana quota in a timely manner to meet the changing medical, scientific, and industrial needs for marijuana.”

Sessions has been very active in threatening to enforce federal laws against any marijuana use once again, even in states like Colorado that have made pot smoking legal. Sessions also has never promised to allow marijuana for medical purposes, and even if it passes, Hatch’s bill would not change that.

Hatch’s involvement is a surprise because he has always been so politically conservative. Republicans have previously voted against attempts to increase research into its medical benefits while supporting the federal classification of pot as a dangerous drug, along with heroin,  lacking in any medical benefits.

Hatch did offer up a similar bill last year under President Obama but it was not successful. It is unclear if he has or will get support for his effort from President Trump, whom the Senator has supported and helped get approval for his nominees even when Democrats have been opposed.

As a Mormon, Hatch is known for being very charitable, but he also has consistently opposed the recreational use of marijuana and still does.

The Salt Lake City Tribune, Hatch’s home town paper, suggests he may have been influenced by Jon Huntsman Senior, the wealthy industrialist (who invented the styrofoam clam shell packing for McDonald’s burgers, among other things).

“Hatch’s initiative follows a televised interview from July during which four-time cancer survivor and philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr. said he is “a very strong advocate for medical marijuana.'”

Huntsman, whose son Jon Jr. is soon to be the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, is the former Governor of Utah. Last year when Jon Jr. returned from being President Obama’s ambassador to China, there were rumors he would challenge Hatch for his Senate seat next year.

Jon Jr. backed off that plan, for which Hatch seemed grateful. It is not know if his pot research advocacy is in some way a payback for that decision.

It is still unclear if Hatch will run again in 2018. If he doesn’t former presidential candidate Mitt Romney is said to be planning to run for the Senate from Utah.

Some see Hatch’s pro-pot stance as a sign he may not run again; which leaves him free to do things he might not have done if he had to face the conservative voters again.

Then again, there is an effort underway in Utah to legalize medical cannabis. According to Forbes, a recent poll indicates it is supported by 79 percent of the voters.

Hatch is also positioning his pot initiative as a way to fight the opioid drug crisis, which is afflicting millions of Americans. That puts him in line with Trump. the opioid crisis is one of the few medical programs the Trump administration supports.

Despite his support for this legislation, Hatch has not joined with other Senators on other bills that would change federal laws to protect people who use medical marijuana legally under state laws. So the Republican threat is still in “Sessions.”

The last bullet point in a press release from Hatch about his pot push also suggests there may be some public relations at work here. It says this new law would “codify the administration’s decision to terminate the Public Health Service,

That is a reminder that at the same time this legislative toothpick is being offered, Hatch is on board with Trump’s plans to clear cut the budget for medical services, medical research centers like the National Institute of Health and a long list of other medical and health projects.

Under Trump’s plans, the budget would take away billions from various health agencies, and shift some responsibility to the states.

“Public health officials caution that President Donald Trump’s most recent budget proposal would leave the nation vulnerable to disease outbreaks or unable to adequately respond to emergencies for years,” reports Modern Healthcare. 

“We’re going to have a disaster,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association tells Modern Healthcare, “and no one is going to be able to respond.”

In other words, while Hatch is willing to give a little on medical marijuana, he will vote for Trump’s draconian cuts across all of the federal medical and health services and research programs that are likely to have a devastating effect on public health for a long time to come.

So before you put Hatch’s plan into your pipe and smoke it, remember that he is still the same conservative reactionary who wants to undo generations of medical and health programs to help the poor, elderly and sick,

Hatch is working hand-in-glove with Trump to make prevention of illness once again less important than the cure, even though prevention is better for most people and much more cost effective.

I guess “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is one proverb Hatch forgot to include in his press release.

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