Personal Freedom

Improvements to the Utah Medical Cannabis Act

Last November, Utah voters passed Prop 2. A month later, Governor Herbert called the Legislature into a special session to pass an amended version of what voters had passed — a proposal that had some additional limitations but still broadly legalizes the medical use of cannabis for a wide range of patients.

In agreeing to negotiate with Prop 2’s opponents to explore a potential compromise, we did not want to see the law changed in December, only to have legislators attack it two months later in the 2019 session. So we stipulated that there would be no substantive changes made this year—though we have a fairly lengthy list of policy proposals ready to go for next year to improve the law and better protect patients.

In the meantime, there have been some tweaks and minor modifications to make to the law to make sure patients are adequately protected while they wait for the program to come online. Those changes were made by Senator Luz Escamilla in Senate Bill 161, which passed the Legislature unanimously. At our request, several changes were included in this bill to help improve the law.

For example, under both Prop 2 and the new law, qualifying patients during this interim period have legal protections to possess medical cannabis—however, that protection did not extend to anybody else. Under SB 161, the law was changed to provide the protection to parents and spouses of the patient as well, to help ensure that those transporting the medicine are also protected.

Another change: barcodes are required under the law on the packages containing raw cannabis, but that’s not currently possible since the system isn’t online. So this bill eliminated that requirement so it applies only once the system is set up.

A final example is with child custody. Because cannabis is federally illegal, parents might try to cite the use of this substance in a custody case in an attempt to try and punish the parent who is a patient using medical cannabis. The new law makes clear that courts must treat medical cannabis use the same way they would treat the use of opioids. In other words, the mere legal status isn’t enough to cause a parent problems.

These and other reasonable changes sailed through the Legislature, and help improve the program that’s being set up throughout this year. We are monitoring the progress of implementation of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act and frequently meeting with regulators to ensure the correct intent is being carried out.

During the summer we will be meeting with elected officials to discuss the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, ideas and concerns they have, and explore broad, patient-centric changes we might make next year to ensure Utah’s program adequately helps those in need.