Adjustments to Utah’s medical marijuana law are moving quickly, with final approval from the House reached on Thursday Feb. 27.
Representatives unanimously passed the bill after a short discussion only hours after a committee gave its support. Earlier in the week, the state Senate also approved medical marijuana.
With the bill, SB121, having passed without dissent in both chambers, it will now go to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature, which is expected imminently.
The rush for medical marijuana in Utah
Utah’s new cannabis dispensary system is set to begin operation on Monday, March 2 and all players in the state-administered medical cannabis program need to be on board by then.
Gov. Herbert, a Republican, initially signed the state’s medical marijuana into law in Sept. 2019 after legalization was approved in 2018.
While Gov. Herbert has long advocated for public policy that can alleviate the pain and suffering of patients who could benefit from MMJ, he does not support adult-use recreational cannabis in Utah.
MMJ Cards Available ASAP in Utah
One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Brad Daw, expects the forward motion of Utah’s MMJ program to meet the proposed deadlines, which include the ability to get a medical marijuana card as early as Sunday March 1.
“We made a fairly strong promise that we would have product on the shelves as soon as humanly possible,” said Daw, per Deseret News.
So far, 47 Utah medical providers have been approved to participate in the program.
Utah’s medical marijuana program has a sizable list of qualifying conditions.
In addition to allowing the state to conduct initial product testing to give the private sector time to gauge supply and demand, a crucial consideration to avoid shortages, the bill raises patient caps for doctors and clarifies that private employers do not need to permit marijuana use.
While some medical marijuana advocates say they’re fine with that, others question why medical cannabis should be treated differently than any prescribed medication.
“Personally, certainly, I would be concerned if any company is taking any adverse action against a patient using their medicine, but our goal is to see that changed just through education and awareness rather than forcing them to change through the law,” said Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, a libertarian advocacy organization that promotes sensible medical cannabis policy in Utah.
Boyack conceded that the bill may not be perfect, but that it’s a work in progress.
Rep. Daw agreed.
“There’s going to be people on all sides of this,” Daw said. “Some people are furious that we’re not going far enough. There’s people on the other side that are furious we’re going too far.”
Daw added that if lawmakers are in agreement that medical cannabis should be treated like a medicine, it should be allowed to be used to that effect.
“If it can help patients, let’s find a way to get it to them.”