Utah Begins Another Push at Expanding Medical Cannabis

Utah Medical Marijuana

Utah already has a CBD-only law on the books, but activists in the state are working to expand the medical marijuana program to provide medicine for patients in need.


Organizers of Utah’s next effort to make medical cannabis a reality have been given the green light to start the signature gathering drive that will put the issue on the 2018 ballot.

Utah Patients Coalition got word from Lt. Governor Spencer Cox this week that they may start to collect the signatures required to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. Organizers put a lot of effort into producing a ballot initiative that was palatable to both lawmakers and the public with numerous hearings across the state. Now the work to collect the 113,000 signatures needed to make things a reality next year begins.

Officials did ask the UPC make some changes to the original draft of the bill. The first alteration got rid of a specific tax deduction that would have required federal tax law to be interpreted and implemented by state tax authorities. Instead, lawmakers will figure out the tax situation in more concrete terms if the initiative passes. The feedback also requested the UPC make the maximum quantity patients and caregivers can possess in line with a 30-day supply.

“We plan to gather the first signatures by next week and be finished prior to the 2018 legislative session in January,” said DJ Schanz, campaign co-director for Utah Patients Coalition. “Our volunteers — many of them patients or caregivers themselves — have been ready and eagerly waiting; it feels good to know we will have scheduled events in the coming weeks for those who have waited years for this.”

Utah currently has a medical law that permits CBD-use only. An attempt to expand the law was defeated by a single vote in the Senate in 2015 and two proposals died in the state legislature in 2016.

Schanz also offered praise for “the respectful and timely schedule” they saw from multiple state departments led by Lt. Governor Cox and his staff in the Elections Division, as well as the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, the State Tax Commission, and the Governor’s General Counsel Jacey Skinner.

We reached out the nation’s oldest cannabis reform group to get their take on medical cannabis support finding its way into the Mormon brand of conservatism.

“We are glad to see the important issue of medical access to cannabis making inroads in Utah, it is an issue that has the support of over 70 percent of state residents,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri.

Altieri believes the proposed initiative would be able to deliver relief to some Utah patients, but the organization is concerned that it may be overly restrictive.

“The prohibition of smoked cannabis, lack of universal home cultivation, high financial threshold on dispensary licenses, and limited conditions list will make it harder for patients to access and consume the treatment they need in an effective, safe, and convenient manner,” Altieri said. “Any measure that would bring medical marijuana access to those suffering is a step in the right direction, but we would hope medical marijuana supporters in Utah will continue to push their state legislature to work on improvements to this proposed medical marijuana initiative in the event of its likely passage next year.”

In June the LDS church, a keystone to life in Utah, released a statement on the initiative:

“Lawmakers across the country have wrestled with whether to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. This discussion raises legitimate questions regarding the benefits and risks of legalizing a drug that has not gone through the well-established and rigorous process to prove its effectiveness and safety.

During the 2017 legislative session, a bill was passed that appropriately authorized further research of the potential benefits and risks of using marijuana. The difficulties of attempting to legalize a drug at the state level that is illegal under federal law cannot be overstated.

Accordingly, we believe that society is best served by requiring marijuana to go through further research and the FDA approval process that all other drugs must go through before they are prescribed to patients.”

Supporters are generally hoping the church stays on the sidelines for this debate, but aren’t holding their breath. The 2018 effort will announce volunteer training and petition events in the coming weeks. Information for those wishing to donate or help gather signatures will be posted at UtahPatients.org.

TELL US, how has medical marijuana helped you?

Jimi Devine has been involved in cannabis reform since 2005 and has worked in the Berkeley cannabis industry since 2009 when he moved to California from Lynn, Massachusetts. Currently serving as Staff Writer here at Cannabis Now, you can also find his writings on cannabis products and policy in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, The Hill, The Chronicle of High Education, GreenState.com, Marijuana.com, 7x7 Magazine, and in Ed Rosenthal's most recent book This Bud's for You. Jimi has a BA in Journalism and Media Studies from Franklin Pierce University.

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