After weeks of tense negotiations, lawmakers, LDS Church officials, Gov. Gary Herbert and proponents of Prop. 2 announced a compromise plan to legalize medical marijuana in Utah.
During a packed press conference in the Capitol’s Gold Room, Gov. Herbert hailed the agreement as reflecting the public’s will on medical marijuana.
“As I said six weeks ago, I said we think we understand where the public wants to be,” he said. “This is the right and correct path for us as a state.”
The proposed compromise bill will be considered during a special legislative session next month following the midterm election. Prop. 2, which would legalize medical marijuana if voters approve it on November 6, would be superseded by the compromise legislation.
The framework contained in the compromise works like this:
There will be 15 licenses for growers in the state. Applications will begin January 1, 2020. Those growers have strict requirements for security and tracking of product.
Medical marijuana processing and testing facilities also have stringent requirements for safety and product controls. Applications for processing and testing facilities will also begin on January 1, 2020.
Distribution of medical cannabis for patients will be done through five specialized state-licensed pharmacies that will only sell marijuana. Pharmacies cannot give samples to customers and must have a pharmacist on staff at all times when the facility is open.
The Department of Health can increase the number of licenses available to 10 if certain operational deadlines are not met. Applications for licenses will begin on March 1, 2020.
Patients will also be able to obtain medical cannabis product from a State Central Fill Pharmacy that must be established by July 1, 2020. The Central Fill Pharmacy will deliver patient orders to their local health department for distribution to patients.
Doctors who want to recommend medical marijuana to patients must register with the Department of Health and complete 4 hours of training. Doctors are limited to recommending cannabis to no more than 20% of their patients.
Patients who want to get a medical cannabis card must see a qualified doctor and then apply for the card through an electronic system. Utah residents who are 18 or older, and pass a criminal background check are eligible for a card. Cards are also available for adult caregivers of patients and children. Applications for cards will begin no later than March 1, 2020.
The conditions that would qualify a patient for a medical cannabis card include HIV or AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, Cancer, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, autism, terminal illness, and chronic pain.
Cardholders must carry their card anytime they are in posession of cannabis, and may not use marijuana in public unless it is an emergency.
Lawmakers and stakeholders seemed almost giddy on Thursday as they unveiled the details of the compromise.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, called the deal a “highlight” of his legislative career.
“This is a pretty amazing day,” he said. “It’s a miracle that we’re united as a group. Very few gave this effort any kind of a chance.”
Despite the compromise, Prop. 2 will still be on the ballot in November. Representatives of the LDS Church and Utah Medical Association, the groups leading the opposition to Prop. 2, vowed to de-escalate their campaigns against the initiative in light of the legislative agreement.
“Many, many people have worked tirelessly to craft a solution to alleviate pain and suffering,” said Elder Jack Gerard, a member of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Seventy. “There is still so much to be done, but now is the time to act. We’re thankful to be part of that solution.”
Former State Senator Mark Madsen, who fruitlessly fought for legalizing medical cannabis in the legislature until he retired in 2016, had mixed feelings about the compromise.
“I’m pleased with what is happening here, but I’m suffering from political whiplash,” he said. “I’m dumbfounded that everyone has embraced the policies I pushed so hard for, but this doesn’t soothe the hurt from those who wouldn’t sit down with me.”
Connor Boyack, President of the Libertas Foundation, was a driving force behind Prop. 2 when his efforts to get lawmakers to embrace medical cannabis legislation was unsuccessful. He said he understands that supporters of Prop. 2 may feel betrayed by the compromise after all of the effort to get the initiative on the ballot, but he says finding a middle ground will ensure that patients get access to medical cannabis in Utah, which is the ultimate goal.
“We don’t want to fight over this issue for years to come,” said Boyack. “We don’t want to win the battle in November only to eventually lose the war. We don’t want there to be a war in the first place.”
Gov. Gary Herbert acknowledged the compromise legislation is just a starting point. Public hearings and the legislative process will result in changes and modifications.
“Is everyone happy? No. This is just a starting place for us. It may take more than a special session and may need to be refined over a number of years. But, it’s a step in the right direction.”