Utah Governor promises to look into medical marijuana regardless of election results
By Meg Ellis
Oct 08, 2018
Utah governor Gary Herbert promised to call a special legislative session to develop an alternative medical marijuana proposal, regardless of the voter outcome on Proposition 2 this November.\
Gov. Herbert made the announcement to The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday, nearly five weeks before the November election. The initiative, like Prop 2, would allow patients with qualifying medical conditions to purchase medical marijuana.
It would also require the development of a consensus bill, to be passed in a special legislative session in November. However, unlike Prop 2, it would require qualifying patients to obtain medical marijuana from a county health department or at one of five state-licensed medical cannabis pharmacies, not dispensaries.
In an eleventh-hour political turn of events, both opponents and proponents of Prop 2 are supporting this initiative. The Marijuana Policy Project issued a statement shortly after the announcement of the initiative, saying that it’s “undoubtedly a victory for Utah patients and their families.”
“The good news here is that whether [Prop 2] passes or fails, we’re going to arrive at the same point,” Gov. Herbert said in a statement.
But what will this initiative do? Who was in the rumored closed-door meetings that had to have happened to make this consensus occur? With so many unanswered questions, the only thing that is certain is that voters will ultimately not determine the fate of medical marijuana accessibility this November.
Prop 2, a 28-page proposal to develop medical marijuana, differs from this proposed compromise bill in several ways. Specifically, the compromise bill would not allow home-cultivation, only allows five medical marijuana pharmacies, and adds specific regulations on dosage requirements.
The compromise bill negotiations were lead by the Utah Patients Coalition campaign director Connor Bayock and treasurer DJ Schanz. MPP staff, one of the main funders of the Yes on Prop 2 campaign, were also consulted during the negotiations.
Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the MPP, called the compromise bittersweet, saying it was a hard decision to end the fight for Prop 2, but that ultimately, this new initiative would work out for everyone.
“In Utah, a statutory ballot initiative can be amended or even repealed by a simple majority in the Legislature. If Proposition 2 passed without any agreement on next steps, patients might have been left waiting years to access legal medical cannabis. This compromise eliminates that uncertainty and ensures legislative leaders are committed to making the law work,” Schweich said in a statement.
One of the supporters of Prop 2, Libertas Institute President Connor Boyack, believes that having a state-sanctioned program initiated by a compromise bill will provide medical marijuana users with the comfort of participating in a program which is backed by the legislature.
“We don’t want to win the battle in November only to potentially lose the war, Boyack said to The Salt Lake Tribune, “More to the point, we don’t want there to be a war.
Everyone loves a winner
Prominently opposed to Prop 2, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints announced in August that the religion clarified that the Utah-based faith, of which Gov. Herbert is a member of, is theoretically supportive of medical cannabis under restrictive circumstances.
LDS Elder Jack N. Gerard stated that “[t]he church does not object to the medical use of marijuana, if [it is] doctor-prescribed in dosage form through a licensed pharmacy.”
This statement seems to serve as the foundation for the compromise bill. Which, if enacted, would allow patients to obtain specifically prescribed doses of cannabis from one of the county health departments or from a marijuana pharmacy, of which there will be five.
Additionally, Gov. Herbert and members of the Utah state legislature maintained open opposition for Prop 2 throughout the legislative process. Now that Gov. Herbert, whose term doesn’t end until 2021, has a compromise medical marijuana bill in hand, support from all political sides as well as the state’s predominant religion, Prop 2 is looking more and more like a dead proposition walking.
The long and windy road that may not lead to medical marijuana legalization
Regardless of how the compromise bill is drawn up, it will still have to survive the legislative process. Utah, a notoriously conservative state, may not look so kindly on medical marijuana once the campaign season is over.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes remarked that state legislators might be more likely to sign off on a medical marijuana program that they have more control over, rather than one initiated by the voters.
“I have not posed this to my colleagues as up or down; you have to take this and swallow it whole,” Hughes said in a statement, “My colleagues believe this is far better than having to clean up something, or be expected to.”
Regardless of the compromise bill, Utah will have to address medical marijuana come November. If Prop 2 fails, then hopefully the Utah state legislature will maintain their pledge of holding a special session in November to address medical marijuana.
Hopefully, this compromise bill means that patients requiring medical marijuana will not have to wait too long while their legislators sort through the bureaucratic red tape.
MPP Executive Director Schweich remains hopeful. “This campaign was never about notching up another election victory,” Schweich said. “Our goal was simply to help medical cannabis patients in Utah who are being treated like criminals as they seek to alleviate their suffering. With this compromise, we have achieved that goal.”