Dawn Nunn’s teenage son Alex died in August after he suffered a seizure. Nunn told a Utah legislative panel on Monday that Alex, who had autism, may have lived if he had been able to use medical cannabis under a voter-approved ballot proposition to expand access to the drug.
“I voted for Prop 2,” she told lawmakers through tears Monday. “The people have spoken, and you don’t have the right to take that away from us.”
The Fruit Heights mother’s emotional testimony was repeated again and again by dozens of patients and advocates who pleaded with state lawmakers not to override Proposition 2 with a replacement bill called the Utah Medical Cannabis Act.
The latest version of the draft bill, unveiled last week, received its first and possibly only public hearing Monday during a five-hour meeting. Utah lawmakers plan to meet in a special session on Dec. 3 to vote on the legislation.
Compared to a the first draft released in early October, the newest version of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act would increase the number of available licenses for so-called “cannabis pharmacies,” remove housing protections for renters, limit amounts growers can cultivate and remove background checks for patients.
But some patient advocates continued to protest Republican lawmakers’ meddling. The latest draft eliminates some qualifying illnesses and bars nurse practitioners from being able to recommend cannabis to patients. Critics also note that provisions requiring the plant to be sold in “blister packs” could hike the cost of cannabis products.
The Health and Human Services Committee took no action on the bill, but spent nearly two hours hearing a presentation from House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, the bill’s primary sponsor.
Hughes said the bill was among “the most exhaustive legislative efforts” he has participated in and vigorously denied accusations that the Legislature wants to gut Prop 2.
“I’m not a complicated enough of a person that if I want to gut something, that I go 187 pages and over 5,800 lines to do it,” Hughes said, referencing the draft legislation’s length.
“We can gut something in 3 pages if we want to gut,” he said.
Hughes and other officials have praised the draft legislation as a grand compromise between Prop 2 organizers and opponents who had voiced concerns about unintended consequences. But dozens of patients who spoke against the bill said they saw it as an outright attempt to subvert the will of Utah voters.
“This is not a compromise piece of legislation. It is a capitulation to the opponents of Proposition 2,” said attorney and former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson.
Anderson, representing patient advocacy groups TRUCE and the Epilepsy Association of Utah, is threatening to sue Republican lawmakers over the involvement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the legislation and special session.
Democrats also largely oppose the deal. Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, said she would introduce a substitute during the special session to revert the bulk of Utah cannabis law back to what was in Proposition 2, with some minor cleanup.
“I do want voters to understand that there are certain provisions of the code that need to be remedied, and that is all that my substitute will provide” she told reporters during a break in the hearing. “Fix what needs to be fixed technically. Leave the substance as the way the voters wanted it.”
Prop 2 passed earlier this month with support from 53 percent of Utah voters and would broaden access to medical marijuana after the state legalized it only for terminally ill patients earlier this year.