UtahPolicy.com has learned of a meeting held on Monday involving the backers of Prop. 2, lawmakers and other interested groups, to discuss options on how best to legalize medical marijuana in the state. While no concrete proposal for legislation emerged from the meeting, sources described the discussions as “promising.”
Sources with knowledge of the meeting spoke to UtahPolicy.com on the condition of anonymity. Attendees discussed a compromise plan for legalizing medical cannabis in the state that would also alleviate concerns from those who fear Prop. 2 is poorly written and may lead to unintended consequences.
Among items under consideration are safeguards to prevent legally grown marijuana from being used for recreational purposes or sold to those who cannot legally buy medical cannabis themselves, measures to ensure the quality and safety for medical cannabis for patients, and barriers to access by children.
One source who was not authorized to discuss the meeting on the record told UtahPolicy.com, “Patients should be happy. This solves access, high costs and the many shortcomings of the proposition, including the high risk of diversion and safety concerns.”
Monday’s meeting comes after sources indicated to UtahPolicy.com that work to find a compromise had been “intensifying” over the past week while generating pushback from stakeholders on both sides of the issue.
But, there are still several hurdles to overcome before a compromise can be reached. Sources indicate there is still a considerable divide between Prop. 2 backers and opponents about “whole flower” or “raw flower” access to medical cannabis. The groups behind Prop. 2 are insistent that provision remain in any resulting legislation because that is cheaper than processed marijuana, and many patients cannot afford any other access. However, many lawmakers see this as a non-starter.
Another chasm to cross is preventing diversion of legally produced medical cannabis for recreational purposes. Lawmakers have repeatedly cited the case of Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby’s recent behavior. Kirby, who admits using medical cannabis, was suspended by the paper, in part, for offering a woman a marijuana edible during a conference over the summer. Several lawmakers see this as sufficient reason to be wary of legalizing medical cannabis without proper oversight.
Legislative leadership is also working with Gov.Gary Herbert to build a consensus on an acceptable framework for legalizing medical cannabis. Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, says he was tasked to find a solution that would be acceptable to stakeholders on both sides of the issue.
“The goal is to find a way to have the medical cannabis product delivered in the safest and most effective way,” said Vickers. “There are some very sensitive discussions going on right now. I’m pretty optimistic we can find something that works.”
Vickers says he knows of at least 4 proposed bills dealing with medical marijuana that are currently in process.
Vickers says it’s very likely that Prop. 2 will pass in November, so it will be up to legislators to clean up and fix some “troubling” language in order to make the initiative workable. Indeed, the latest UtahPolicy.com survey finds 64% of Utahns favor legalizing medical marijuana, while 33% are opposed.
“They’re trying to get together to find a workable solution to all of this,” says a source with knowledge of the negotiations over changes to Prop. 2. “But this is not something you can come up within a couple of weeks. Everyone is really skeptical that they can get something done.”
Vickers says the public is supportive of the idea of legalizing medical marijuana, but they become more reticent once they understand some of the elements contained in Prop. 2.
“Everybody seems to know a story about medical cannabis helping someone. For the most part, the public has become pretty favorable,” he says. “But, once people find out what’s in the initiative, it’s troubling to them. Legislators understand that this is going to happen, so we need to find a way to get out in front of it.”
Vickers says implementing a medical marijuana program is a herculean task, and it’s not as easy as simply copying a program from another state.
“This is a complicated law. You are creating a whole new medical system; essentially a mini-FDA and DEA on a state level,” he says.
Those two considerations could present additional barriers to any agreement on legal medical marijuana, as testing and safety are major considerations for lawmakers, especially if cannabis is going to be given to patients with cancer or others with compromised immune systems.
Vickers is confident that lawmakers will be able to come up with something that will be acceptable to both sides.
“There’s a real, honest effort to find a reasonable policy that will allow patients to receive this medication,” he says.