Herbert says it’s time for Utah to have a workable medical marijuana law

Whether Prop 2 – the medical marijuana initiative on November’s ballot – passes or fails, Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that he and the Utah Legislature would pass a workable medical marijuana bill that guarantees access to the drug for tens of thousands of sick and suffering Utahns.

In essence, Herbert promised that genuinely ill and suffering Utahns will soon be able to get legally-approved medical marijuana – quite a shift in very Republican, conservative Utah.

And Herbert suggested that dispensing of medical marijuana could be done by the 29 county health departments.

Herbert appeared to say that he, personally, will make sure the new medical marijuana bill passes, either in a special legislative session after the Nov. 6 vote, or in the 2019 general session, which starts the end of January.

An animated Herbert, sometimes pointing a finger or bouncing on his feet, told reporters at his monthly KUED press conference, that time for talking about Utah getting some kind of workable medical marijuana law is over.

If Prop 2 fails – and Herbert said he personally would vote against it – then a new law will be written and adopted by the Legislature, with his help.

If Prop 2 pass – lawmakers “will come into session” to pass needed changes to it, Herbert said.

Whether voters approve or defeat Prop 2, “the timeline” for legislative action will not change, said Herbert.

There has been talk that if Prop 2 passes, lawmakers would be too timid to try to drastically change it – since voters had spoken.

Herbert isn’t thinking that way at all.

“If it (Prop 2) passes, we’ll fix it” through legislative action, said Herbert. It has problems, he added. “Even the proponents” of the initiative “say that.”

“If it fails, we’ll start anew” in drafting a medical marijuana law. “One that all can support.”

Whether Herbert et al. can actually get support from the Prop 2 supporters – to either amend or write a whole new law – remains to be seen.

But Herbert seemed determined Thursday that action to get a workable, controlled medical marijuana law passed by the Legislature over the next few months will happen.

And it will happen, in part, because the Prop 2 folks brought the need front and center, and showed public support to get something done.

The most recent UtahPolicy.com poll by Dan Jones & Associates finds that overall Utahns support Prop 2, 72-25 percent.

Republicans support it, 60-37 percent; Democrats, 95-4 percent; and political independents want it, 76-20 percent.

One way or the other, “we will get a good law; we all want that,” said Herbert.

Herbert’s suggestion that the 29 county health departments could be the place where controlled medical marijuana could be distributed to qualifying patients was a new idea floated Thursday.

Prop 2 – following some of the current medical marijuana laws in the 30 states that now allow it – sets up a rather extensive growing, processing and distribution process, with private, licensed dispensaries being set up.

How a qualified person can actually get their hands on medical marijuana has always been a sticking point.

UtahPolicy.com reported Thursday morning that some Utah legislators want to get some kind of “guidance” or “waiver” from federal Drug Enforcement Agency or Justice Department officials so that a few licensed Utah pharmacies could dispense the marijuana-based drug.

But that is a very “iffy” proposal, one Prop 2 supporter says, and is unworkable and may well be just a stalling tactic.

Herbert’s idea may be better – as county health departments already provide many medical services, from immunizations to sexually transmitted disease treatments.

They have doctors and nurses already working with patients – and might be able to get some kind of governmental immunity for dispensing medical marijuana, which is still illegal under federal law.

Herbert said one of the great problems with the whole medical marijuana process in other states is that it is a private cash-and-carry operation.

But Utah could figure out a way to do away with cash transactions, using bank and credit cards instead.

“We (in Utah) want to find a way to access medical marijuana; evidence, at least anecdotally, shows relief from pain and suffering,” said Herbert.

“It will be my job” to bring the stakeholders together whether Prop 2 passes or fails to adopt a law that provides real access to medical marijuana for those suffering, doing so with public health and safety factors built in, and not opening Utah up to sham medical marijuana recreational use, Herbert said.

UtahPolicy.com has spoken to interested lawmakers who said while no medical marijuana bill has yet been written, legislative attorneys “have the basic parts” of legalizing language already prepared, which rather quickly could be put together in either amendments to Prop 2, or a whole new bill should the initiative fail.