Utah replaces voter-approved medical marijuana law with stricter compromise bill
The governor of Utah signed a bill replacing the medicinal marijuana law approved by voters last month with a stricter regulatory system rushed through the state legislature.
Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday autographed the Utah Medical Cannabis Act within hours of the compromise bill being introduced during a special session held among lawmakers in Salt Lake City and passed easily in both the state House and Senate.
“This is a historic day,” said Mr. Herbert, a Republican. “With the passage of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, Utah now has the best-designed medical cannabis program in the country. Working with trained medical professionals, qualified patients in Utah will be able to receive quality-controlled cannabis products from a licensed pharmacist in medical dosage form. And this will be done in a way that prevents diversion of product into a black market.”
Utah joined the majority of the nation in legalizing medical marijuana when voters passed Proposition 2 during the Nov. 6 election by a margin of roughly 53 to 47, but the compromise bill superseded the ballot initiative before it ever came into fruition.
Groups including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Utah Medical Association opposed Prop. 2 prior to its passage, and lawmakers previously announced plans to draft a compromise bill taking their concerns into consideration.
Introduced during the daylong special session, the Utah Medical Cannabis Act was easily passed in the state House and Senate by votes of 60-13 and 22-4, respectively, prior to being sent to the governor and signed as expected.
“This is an example of how collaboration makes Utah the best-managed state in the nation,” Mr. Herbert said in a statement. “Proponents and opponents came together to honor the voice of Utah voters who compassionately stood up for Utah patients. They provided for access to medical cannabis, while closing loopholes that have created significant problems in other states that have legalized medical cannabis.
“My administration is committed to full implementation of this act as quickly as feasible,” the governor added.
Unlike the ballot initiative approved by voters, the Utah Medical Cannabis Act prohibits patients from growing their own marijuana and bans dispensaries from selling most types of infused edibles. It also limits the number of licensed dispensaries permitted to operate in the state to seven, and it revises the list of medical conditions that a patient must have to qualify to become a cardholder by removing most autoimmune diseases.
“This bill is undoubtedly inferior to the law enacted by voters in November. However, Proposition 2 would very likely have been defeated without the compromise deal, which prevented an onslaught of opposition spending,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that supports marijuana legalization. “Advocates made the responsible decision to negotiate with opponents and ensure that patients were not left without any access to medical cannabis.”
“While this legislation is not ideal, it is a major step forward for Utah and it will help patients and families across the state,” he said in a statement. “This law will enable patients to safely and legally access the medical cannabis treatments they need, and it can be improved upon in future legislative sessions. It’s now time to move forward, and we call on the state government to implement this new policy without delay.”
Thirty-three states including Utah have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes despite the plant’s status as a controlled substance prohibited under federal law. Ten of those states have passed separate laws legalizing recreational use of marijuana among adults, including seven that currently permit retail dispensaries to operate.
The LDS church released a seven page memorandum in May outlining its opposition to Prop. 2, and Mormon officials subsequently participated in the discussions that culminated in Monday’s compromise bill.
Passage “of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act once again shows how organizations with diverse interests can come together to resolve difficult issues for the benefit of those who suffer while simultaneously protecting our children,” Marty Stephens, director of community and government relations for the church, said in a statement Monday. “We thank the leadership of the state, the medical professionals, patients advocates, law enforcement and the many others who made this effort possible.”
Roughly two-thirds of Utah residents belong to the Mormon church, including Mr. Herbert.