An agreement has been reached by the legislature, governor, stakeholders who endorsed and opposed Proposition 2. The draft Utah Medical Cannabis Act bill is a result of the leadership of Speaker Greg Hughes bringing members of the House and Senate, stakeholders and advocacy groups to the table to find common ground on a complex issue.
Just like with any other legislation that is considered or passed by the Utah Legislature, a proposition can be altered and enhanced. The goal of this draft legislation is to openly and with transparency, address concerns while still allowing medical cannabis to be safely distributed to patients with oversight from medical professionals at every step of the process while making sure public safety is not undermined.
Highlights of the proposed agreement that is likely to be considered during a Special Session on December 3 compared to Proposition 2 are below.
- Medical users have been concerned about how an employer may react to someone legally using cannabis. Prop 2 did not address this concern. While Utah is a right to work state, which means an employer can fire an employee for nearly any reason at any time, the agreement puts protections in place for state and local government from firing, suspending or taking adverse employment actions against an individual who uses medical cannabis.
- Owners of firearms have been concerned about the federal enforcement of laws by those who use a Schedule 1 substance. Again, Prop 2 did not address this concern. The language in the agreement prohibits state and local law enforcement officers from enforcing a law that restricts an individual’s right to acquire, own or possess a firearm based on the person’s use of medical cannabis. While the federal government can enforce their laws, Utah law enforcement officers would not be allowed to help.
- Prop 2 had an oversight that only had the affirmative defense, which is a legal protection in place for medical cannabis users, until January 1, 2020. Leaving a seven-month period when patients went unprotected while the card system is not required to be operational until 2021. Under the agreement, the affirmative defense is extended until January 1, 2021.
- Qualifying conditions under the agreement are expanded to include terminal illness with less than six months of life expectancy, which Prop 2 would have repealed, and conditions that result in a person receiving hospice care. Additionally, the stipulation that required chronic pain patients first try an opioid instead of medical cannabis that was in Prop 2 was removed in the agreement.
- The agreement keeps the CBD law in place, which allows CBD products to be sold over the counter.
- Prop 2 put protections for parents and their minor children from adverse actions taken by the Division of Child and Family Services. The agreement expands the protections also to include protections for parents or guardians of vulnerable adults, which is the legal definition of an adult-age individual with mental or physical impairment.
- Prop 2 prohibits individuals who have committed a felony in the past seven years from being a caregiver, which includes purchasing or transporting cannabis to a patient. The agreement reduces it to two years and narrows the scope to crimes (felony and misdemeanor) pertaining to drug distribution.
- While liability protections were given to physicians who recommend medical cannabis treatment under Prop 2, there was uncertainty if the protections would extend to the affirmative defense, prior to having a system in place, if recommendations would be legal. The agreement addresses concerns by clearly prolonging the liability protection to the affirmative defense phase. Now, doctors who recommend medical cannabis to patients will not be held civilly or criminally liable for recommendation merely because cannabis is a federally illegal Schedule I substance.
- In Prop 2, there is a provision, though never intended to be utilized, in case dispensaries were not allowed to operate until January 2021 that would enable users to grow their medical cannabis. This agreement eliminates the ability for patients to grow their own cannabis and changes the provision to medical decriminalization. Prosecutors will not be able to file charges against patients who use medical cannabis after the date listed above. The new proposed change will be beneficial to many more patients.
- Two lawsuits have already been filed against Prop 2. To help ensure patients have access to medical cannabis and the agreement is upheld, a severability clause has been included. So, if a court rules a provision of the bill is unconstitutional, the rest of the proposal will remain in effect without the nullified provision.
Medical Cannabis Pharmacy
Medical cannabis is illegal on a federal level, which prohibits pharmacies licensed by the federal government to distribute it. Instead of following what other states have implemented that have dispensaries without professional medical oversight, this agreement takes a Utah approach to solve the pharmacy concern.
There will be a state central fill medical cannabis pharmacy that will distribute the medical cannabis to a local health department. Additionally, five specialized state-licensed medical cannabis pharmacies will be located throughout the state that could distribute cannabis in a medicinal dosage form.
The medical cannabis pharmacies would be required to follow laws similar to state licensed pharmacies including labeling, continuing education and counseling.
How it would work. Under this draft legislation, when a physician recommends medical cannabis to a patient, the medical cannabis pharmacies would be informed. The patient could then pick up the cannabis at a local health department or a medical cannabis pharmacy where the patient would be required to show their medical cannabis card to receive it. Pharmacists would be available to answer questions and educate patients on the cannabis and dosage, equivalent to a traditional pharmacy.
Medical cannabis would be available in medicinal dosage forms such as a tablet, topical preparation or concentrated oil. Smoking would be prohibited under this collaborative draft legislation. Additional measures will be put in place to protect against recreational marijuana use.
Overview of Meetings
In October, the governor and legislature announced they would meet during a special session to consider the draft medical cannabis bill whether Prop 2 passed or failed. During October interim, the Health and Human Services Interim Committee discussed the draft legislation.
On Monday, November 26 the Health and Human Services Interim Committee will be discussing the Utah Medical Cannabis Act again. The special session to vote on the proposed bill is planned for December 3. You can attend the meetings in person at the Capitol or listen live online at le.utah.gov.
Information about the draft legislation, articles, blogs, public hearings and town halls can be found here:
- Draft Bill – Utah Medical Cannabis Act
- Summary of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act
- Initiative Amendments
- Health and Human Services Interim Committee – October
- Announcement of the Agreement
- Utah Patients Coalition Public Forum – October
- Utah Democrats Public Hearing – October
- Tribune editorial: Vote for Prop 2 to make Utah cannabis ‘shared vision’ a reality
- Salt Lake Tribune: Utah governor promises to call special session after the election to enact medical marijuana agreement, no matter how Prop 2 vote turns out
- Deseret News: In our opinion: Don’t turn your backs on the medical marijuana compromise
- Libertas Institute: Improvements in the Medical Cannabis “Compromise”
21 counties voted against Prop 2 – 8 counties voted for it.