Why Medical Marijuana Is Essentially Guaranteed In Utah

The deal struck between opposing sides will launch a program that pleases all.

Photo by Lauren Pandolfi via Unsplash

Regardless of how the issue of medical marijuana fares in Utah’s upcoming election, patients will have access to the herb soon. A deal was struck last week between leaders of the Mormon Church, cannabis advocates and Governor Gary Herbert intended to launch a more palatable version of a therapeutic use program than the one marked for the ballot next month. For better or worse, it is a compromise that will give way to one of the most unique medical marijuana laws in the United States.

A medical marijuana initiative referred to as Proposal 2 is expected to pass next month when voters hit the polls. Some of the latest public opinion surveys show 77 percent are in favor of medical marijuana.

But the outcome at the ballot box will not have much bearing on how the law shakes out. In a recent press engagement, Governor Herbert said he will call a special session following the mid-term election to assemble a compromise bill for a statewide medical marijuana program that has already been agreed upon by all concerned parties, including the Church of Jesus Christs of Latter-Day Saints.

“The good news here is that whether [Prop 2] passes or fails, we’re going to arrive at the same point,” Herbert said.

Although medical marijuana is essentially guaranteed in Utah, the program will be different than any other in the country. For starters, the state will have a distinct distribution model. It will allow for up to five privately owned cannabis dispensaries, while also making it available through the state’s health departments. All cannabis transactions will be handled by licensed pharmacists. The primary goal of the pre-negotiated plan is to tighten up safeguards, some of which were lacking in Proposal 2, to prevent medical marijuana from being distributed in the black market.

The compromise also chiseled away at the list of qualified conditions. Despite statistics showing that most successful medical marijuana programs service patients with “chronic pain,” the condition was mostly eliminated from the list. The law would, however, allow someone to use medical marijuana for “pain lasting longer than two weeks, under certain conditions.”

Most cannabis products will still be available under the compromise. The only exception will be edible forms of marijuana that are attractive to children—these items will be banned. There was some concern that smokable forms of marijuana would be prohibited as well, but that’s apparently not the case. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that patients will still have access to raw flower that comes in a tamper-resistant blister pack. This is being done so that law enforcement can distinguish between medical marijuana and the recreational weed purchased on the street.

Whether or not patients would have the ability to make their own edibles at home is an issue that remains unanswered. There is speculation that this activity would be illegal under the new bill.

Most cannabis advocacy groups are a bit skeptical of the compromise, though they remain optimistic. But that is only if the voters still push through and support Proposal 2. If this happens, the special session will be dedicated to enacting the compromise. If the initiative fails, state lawmakers will then begin hashing out another version, which could take longer to put on the books.

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