Lawmakers will consider ditching state-run medical marijuana dispensaries in upcoming special session

Utah Capitol 06

Utah lawmakers are set to consider major changes to the state’s new medical marijuana legislation, primarily doing away with the central-fill pharmacy provision in the bill and replacing it with more privately-run pharmacies.

The central-fill part of Utah’s medical cannabis law sets up a state-run pharmacy that delivers medical cannabis to patients through county health departments. Several county officials have expressed concern that local health departments may be violating federal law by dispensing marijuana.

Instead, the new bill, which lawmakers will consider during an upcoming special legislative session, will use up to a dozen private medical cannabis pharmacies. Patients living in remote areas who find it difficult to travel to the pharmacies will have the option of delivery made by couriers.

Right now federal law blocks banks from engaging in financial transactions involving marijuana. The proposal partially addresses that roadblock by allowing approved vendors to take electronic payments at private dispensaries. In states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal, most transactions are in cash to avoid running afoul of federal regulations.

Legislative sources tell the bill also implements a number of additional protections for patients. Growers will also have the option of using a combination of indoor/outdoor growing rather than being restricted to one or the other. 

The bill also ramps up research on the effectiveness of medical cannabis in the state, allowing institutions of higher education to obtain product from growers inside the state for their research.

A special session to consider the new legislation could happen as early as September according to legislative sources. House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said Wednesday he’s happy with the progress lawmakers are making on medical cannabis.

“Voters passed this initiative last fall. We took that initiative and looked at what the intent was and what unintended consequences there could be. We’ll continue to improve on it to make things better for the citizens of the state of Utah,” he said.