Utah lawmakers considering expanding access to medical cannabis in special session next month

Utah lawmakers are mulling a special session, perhaps as early as October, to expand access to medical marijuana in Utah, using the existing framework established under the “right to try” legislation passed by lawmakers in the 2018 session.

Legislative sources with knowledge of the plans tell UtahPolicy.com that lawmakers are considering several moves to expand access to medical cannabis under the framework established by HB197 and HB195. Under those two bills, the state is already set to open medical cannabis dispensaries for terminally ill patients in July of next year. Prop. 2, if approved by voters in November, would override those two bills and push off the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries until March 1 of 2020.

Among the ideas being floated by lawmakers include expanding the list of conditions patients are suffering from in order to receive medical cannabis. Prop. 2 lists several qualifying illnesses including HIV, Alzheimers, cancer, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, autism, and chronic pain. Critics of Prop. 2 point out the initiative leaves out two of the most common illnesses treated by medical cannabis, glaucoma, and arthritis. Those conditions may be included in the expanded list considered by lawmakers. One template under consideration is the list of qualifying conditions used by Minnesota for their medical cannabis program. That list was developed with the assistance of the Mayo Clinic.

Lawmakers could also expand the number of dispensaries allowed under HB197, which directs the establishment of a state dispensary by January 1, 2019.

“Let’s pass a bill that is what patients really want,” said one legislative source when asked about the plan. “It really wouldn’t take much to go from where we’re at and to get full access to medical cannabis by patients.”

Sources tell UtahPolicy.com that Gov. Gary Herbert has been apprised of the plan.

Opponents of Prop. 2, including the LDS Church, say the proposal is poorly written and will lead to de-facto recreational use. The LDS Church has said it is not opposed to the use of medical cannabis, just Prop. 2.

The rationalization behind a possible October special session would be to pass expanded medical cannabis before ballots are mailed to voters next month. Legislative leaders have previously said they are better equipped to craft medical cannabis law than passing something through the initiative process. 

Polls show majority support for Prop. 2, with the most recent survey finding 64% of Utahns in favor or the initiative. However, that number dropped from an approval in the low-70’s following the LDS Church’s formal opposition.