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Utah Considers Changes to Medical Marijuana Law Amid Concerns from Counties

Utah lawmakers are still faced with concerns regarding medical cannabis.

Utah Considers Changes to Medical Marijuana Law Amid Concerns from Counties
Teri Virbickis/ Shutterstock

First, it was approved by Utah voters. Then, it was advanced by lawmakers. But there are still plenty of concerns surrounding the state’s new medical marijuana law, prompting legislators there to consider tweaks before the program is fully implemented. 

Several counties in Utah have expressed concerns about distributing medical cannabis, citing its illegality on the federal level. Officials in Salt Lake and Davis counties “have advised their county health departments against dispensing medical marijuana once the state’s distribution network is up and running,” Deseret News reported on Tuesday. In a statement to the Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health said it intended to continue to urge county officials to “to find solutions that will ensure patients statewide have access to medical cannabis within the timeline set out in the Medical Cannabis Act.”

Those concerns have some Utah lawmakers mulling even more action on a law that has already been greenlit by both voters and the legislature. State senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, a Republican, said he and his colleagues are considering several proposals, and they may even pursue making changes in a special legislative session.

“I think we’re pretty close to having a solution that would minimize if not eliminate risk for the local health departments,” Vickers said. 

Vickers was a co-sponsor of a bill that helped establish the state’s medical marijuana program. The legislation, which was signed into law earlier this year by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, came after Utah voters approved Proposition 2 in November of 2018 by a 53%-47% margin. Proposition 2 legalized medical cannabis for qualified patients and officially took effect at the beginning of December, but lawmakers called a special session that same month. The resulting “compromise” bill supplanted Proposition 2, resulting in tighter restrictions on patient eligibility. The new law states that the medical cannabis program must be operational by March 1, 2020.

But before then, the law may yet undergo more tweaks to quell the concerns from local officials. Troy Rawlings, the Davis County attorney, told Deseret News that the reluctance to distribute has “nothing to do with the politics of the issue, it’s strictly the legalities of the issue and implementation.”

The fits and starts have frustrated Utah Democrats. Party leaders in the state house issued a statement Tuesday that, among other things, criticized the legislature for replacing Proposition 2 to begin with. “”Legislative leadership told Utah that Proposition 2 … needed to be replaced because it would not function. Now it looks like their replacement plan also will not function. The Legislature cannot override the will of the voters with failed plans … and hope to maintain any kind of trust with the people we are supposed to represent,” the statement said, as quoted by Deseret News.

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