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Lawmakers To Change Medical Marijuana Law In Special Session

Photo of bagged medical marijuana and medicine bottles. / Patrick Morrissey

Utah’s medical cannabis law will continue to evolve as the state prepares to sell marijuana products next spring.

Lawmakers will meet in a special session Monday, Sept. 16, to consider several changes to the law, which was first enacted through a ballot initiative last November and overhauled by the Legislature weeks later.

A new bill would remove public health departments from the medical cannabis system. Under current law, those departments are allowed to dispense cannabis, but some county attorneys have advised their local health departments not to distribute the drug, which is federally illegal.

Instead, the bill will allow up to 12 private dispensaries, referred to as “medical cannabis pharmacies.” Current law only allows for up to seven of those facilities.

“My administration is dedicated to ensuring that quality, medical grade cannabis products are accessible to patients by March of 2020,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement. “Removing the requirement for a state central fill pharmacy will provide efficient and timely distribution of this substance for those who need it.” 

Connor Boyack, president of the libertarian think tank Libertas Institute and a co-author of both the cannabis ballot initiative and the subsequent overhaul bill, said the changes are “urgent” and will “make the program more patient-friendly in a variety of ways.”

“There are a number of other improvements we have proposed that are less urgent, which will be considered by the Legislature in January,” Boyack said.

“We’re very happy that the local health department issues, at least for Salt Lake County, is not going to be an issue because that was a major concern for us,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. 

“Through this process, I think we’re trying to find that happy medium that preserves the intent and the core issues, which is getting medical cannabis in the hands of our citizens who are in need of it,” he said.

Other items

Lawmakers will also consider funding for outreach campaigns ahead of the 2020 Census, which was not funded in this year’s budget.

They’ll also look at technical changes to election and alcohol laws. The Legislature needs to authorize transportation and storage of beer up to 4% alcohol by weight, which can legally be sold in grocery and convenience stores beginning Nov. 1. 

Lawmakers will also consider pushing back the date of the June 2020 primary — normally held on the fourth Tuesday in June.

“Because General Conference weekend and Easter weekend fall on back-to-back weekends the first two weekends in April, the political parties felt like they needed more weekends to hold their [nominating] conventions,” said Utah’s Director of Elections, Justin Lee.

Pushing the primary back to June 30, the fifth Tuesday of the month, “will give the parties an extra week for convention and still allow the counties the time they need to prepare the ballot,” Lee said.

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