Utah is legalizing medical cannabis—but the law being passed is not the one voters approved just a few weeks ago.
Utah’s House of Representatives and Senate voted through House Bill 3001, or the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, replacing the voter-approved Proposition 2 during a special session on Dec. 3. The measure passed the House 60-13 and the Senate by 22-4, passing the two-thirds mark that means the bill will come into effect as soon as the governor signs it.
The bill is the culmination of many private and public meetings hashing out a compromise to Prop. 2, which had The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Utah Patients Coalition and conservative leaders protesting the bill.
“I’m proud of the process that we’ve gone through, that we’ve had more public, formal hearings as well as informal hearings than any bill we’ve been involved in,” said Speaker Greg Hughes.
The bill strengthens the distribution system voters agreed on, creating more government oversight but also restricts more patients from getting cannabis medicine. For instance, the new legislation drops the number of approved dispensaries from 40 to seven and bans most edibles. It also narrows the definition of approved conditions, restricting access to patients who could benefit from the medicine.
“We strongly urge state lawmakers to honor the will of the people on medical cannabis legislation. Regardless of their personal policy preferences, lawmakers should respect that a majority of voters approved Proposition 2,” said Chase Thomas, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah.
Cannabis advocates reacted to the new bill with mixed feelings. “This bill is undoubtedly inferior to the law enacted by voters in November. However, Proposition 2 would very likely have been defeated without the compromise deal, which prevented an onslaught of opposition spending. Advocates made the responsible decision to negotiate with opponents and ensure that patients were not left without any access to medical cannabis,” said Marijuana Policy Project Deputy Director Matthew Schweich in a press release. “While this legislation is not ideal, it is a major step forward for Utah and it will help patients and families across the state. This law will enable patients to safely and legally access the medical cannabis treatments they need, and it can be improved upon in future legislative sessions.”