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Medical Cannabis Compromise Bill Gets Mixed Response In First Public Hearing

Photo of meeting.
Nicole Nixon / KUER

Some Republican legislators and conservative groups appear to have been won over by a draft bill, which lawmakers pledge will expand medical marijuana in Utah whether or not a ballot initiative passes in November.

But some supporters of Proposition 2 believe lawmakers won’t pass portions of the bill and say patients will never get medical marijuana under the proposal.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, introduced the draft legislation at the bill’s first public hearing Wednesday. He said the bill is not final and will likely undergo more tweaks before a special session planned for next month, after the November 6 election.

“That is not a porcelain doll, it’s not a Cinderella slipper that you can’t touch,” Hughes told members of the Health and Human Services interim committee. “There will be continued hearings. There will be continued discussion.”

Steve Urquhart, a former Republican state senator, questioned the entire process.

“If this is the start of a process, you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to do,” he said, but “this was announced to the public like it was a done deal.”

“If your goal is to provide relief to patients, I’m telling you, you’re on your way to making a big mistake. They’ll never get medical cannabis under this bill,” Urquhart said.

The compromise draft, backed by Gov. Gary Herbert and unveiled at a press conference earlier this month, would tighten state controls over medical cannabis and its distribution.

Conservative groups, including the Sutherland Institute and Utah Eagle Forum, spoke in favor of the legislation, which they called a better alternative to Proposition 2.

“Though not perfect, which is the nature of a compromise, the proposed Utah Medical Cannabis Act is sound policy,” said Stan Rassmussen with the Sutherland Institute.

Tom Ross, president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, also said he preferred the compromise bill.

But some patients said they were left out of negotiations over the compromise.

“My concern is that this is political theatre that we have going on right now,” said Christine Stenquist, who runs the patient advocacy group TRUCE, which is campaigning in favor of Prop 2.

“You have told the entire state that you’ve got this, and I am concerned that you don’t have this,” she said.

Stenquist said with more than 20 lawmakers not seeking re-election to their seats this November, the next class of legislators should take up the issue.


Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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