SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that while medical marijuana may be "a common sense thing" that should be debated during the 2016 Legislature, he still has concerns.
"I’m not interested in having Dr. Feelgood out there say, ‘Yeah, yeah, que pasa, you know, here’s your doobie for the day and you’ll feel better.’ That’s probably not where I want to go," he said during his monthly news conference on KUED-Ch. 7.
The governor, who has previously said he's open to the idea of medical marijuana, also took issue with the federal government not being involved in the debate over legalizing the substance.
"I don't think it's good policy for us to have laws in different states that allow the use of marijuana, whether it's medical or recreation use, and then have the federal government turn a blind eye to the violation of federal law," Herbert said.
An attempt to pass a law to allow patients with certain illnesses to access cannabis failed last year in the Legislature, but the bill's sponsor, Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, will try again this session.
A more limited proposal, similar to a 2014 law permitting patients with epilepsy to be prescribed hemp oil, is also being advanced by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, and Rep. Brad Daw R-Orem.
The governor said he believes the state should be pushing for action on medical marijuana in Congress at the same time state lawmakers consider changing Utah law.
He said as long as marijuana is treated like any other medicine that's a controlled substance, to regulate the quantity and quality used so the state isn't in the "self-medication business," he believes "there is a pathway forward."
Herbert also weighed in on another issue expected to come before the 45-day session of the Legislature that starts Monday, a proposal from Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, to require merchants to collect sales taxes on online purchases.
Bramble, president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, wants Utah to join other states in passing legislation expected to spark a legal challenge based on past court decisions in the hope of prompting action on the issue.
The governor said he "absolutely" would sign such legislation. Utah requires taxpayers to declare what they owe on their income tax returns, but few do. Herbert said collections are falling about $180 million short.
"We've got to bring this to a resolution one way or the other," he said, because states can no longer afford not to be able to collect the taxes owed directly from sellers. "It's not right. It's not fair," he said.
The governor also said that "hopefully, common sense will prevail at the end of the day in the ongoing dispute between state officials and the Utah Republican Party over a change to the political candidate nomination process.
That change allows candidates to bypass the traditional caucus and convention system for selecting nominees by gathering voter signatures to secure a spot on the primary election ballot.
Herbert, a Republican who is running for re-election this year, is doing both.
The state GOP has sued the state a second time over the law, known as SB54, and the governor said the courts may be the only way to resolve a conflict he called "more ado about nothing."