Richard Vogel, Associated Press
FILE – In this Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 photo a bud tender shows a top cannabis strain at Serra a dispensary in Portland, Ore.
SALT LAKE CITY — A $300,000 legislative budget request for a study to determine the prevalence of cannabis and opioid use by pregnant women in Utah hit a roadblock when a legislative committee recommended no appropriation to support it.
Leaders of the Utah Legislature’s Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee initially recommended an appropriation of $50,000 for the research.
“I don’t know that that’s necessarily usable at that amount,” said Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork.
The committee instead voted Friday to move the $50,000 appropriation to the Primary Care Workforce Model, a tool developed by IBM intended to help health care leaders, educators and lawmakers more accurately predict and fill health care needs statewide.
The subcommittee’s action does not necessarily doom the request by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem.
The Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee crafts the final budget bills voted on by all 104 lawmakers. A member of that committee could resurrect the proposal and any lawmaker can attempt to amend budget bills when they reach the floors of their respective houses.
Dr. Ed Clark, a pediatrician and professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Pediatrics among other administrative roles, told the committee that Utah would lead the nation by conducting research that quantifies the prevalence of maternal cannabis use and using the data to design educational programs.
“We propose an anonymous designed monitoring sample that would monitor 2,000 out of the 50,000 births in Utah, analyzing segments of umbilical cord, which are obtained at birth and discarded, for the presence of a range of substances including opioids and cannabis. That sample would be drawn from urban hospitals, rural hospitals, frontier locations and across a broad socioeconomic population range,” he said.
Committee members questioned why Daw’s appropriation’s request was titled “Study Adverse Effects of Cannabis.”
They also questioned why researchers would approach a study presupposing the impacts of cannabis use were adverse.
“The reason that we would propose doing this, because we’re embarking on the cannabis for medical use. There are some who will obviously benefit but also potential adverse effects and we need to be able to have a system for tracking some of that,” Clark said.
“In some states, the availability of cannabis for medical use is associated with an increase of overall use within the population,” he said.
An umbilical cord study in 2010 showed the use of cannabis by expectant mothers in Utah was low, less than one-half of 1 percent.
“Fast forward to 2017 and a phone survey by the Department of Health indicated that 10 percent of 18 to 34-year olds adults reported use of cannabis and that two-thirds of them did not perceive any harm from its use,” Clark said.
“Preliminary evidence suggests monitoring maternal cannabis use would help us inform and respond with appropriate public health education,” he said.
Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advise against the use of cannabis and cannabis-derived substances during pregnancy, he said.
Committee member Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said she had concerns whether the test subjects would be truly anonymous.
“I’m just concerned about the privacy of what goes on,” she said.
Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, supported the proposal, noting it was an opportunity to put “Utah at the forefront” of cannabis research.
Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, who presented the request, said as Utah embarks on the use of medical cannabis, “the one thing we recognize is that there’s not an awful lot of science about the effects, positive and negative, of cannabis on patients.
“So as we embark on allowing medical cannabis to be used in the state, one of the critical elements to making sure that that program works is having new knowledge and understanding of those ramifications.”