Utah Medical Cannabis Act
Sponsor: Utah Patients Coalition
This ballot initiative would allow patients with specific medical conditions to legally obtain and use, with a doctor’s recommendation, up to two ounces of cannabis (“medical marijuana”), or up to 10 grams of cannabidiol or tetrahydrocannabinol (chemicals found in marijuana), in a 14-day period. Patients would be required to obtain a medical cannabis card connected to an electronic verification system, administered by the state Department of Health.
Qualifying illnesses would include HIV, Alzheimer’s, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, autism, and chronic or debilitating pain in individuals who are unable to use opiates or are at risk of becoming dependent or overdosing on opiates. Other conditions could qualify, on a case-by-case basis, as determined by a Compassionate Use Board of five physicians.
Medical cannabis could only be obtained from a licensed dispensary. Other business licenses would be created for cultivation, processing and testing facilities. Only one dispensary would be licensed for every 150,000 residents in a county. A licensed medical cannabis business (dispensary, cultivation or processing facility, or testing laboratory) could not be located within 600 feet of a school, public park, playground, church or library. Cannabis businesses would have to comply with local zoning regulations, and could not be within 300 feet of an area zoned exclusively for residential use. Local governments would be permitted to impose additional restrictions on dispensary operations.
Felons would not be allowed to own or be employed by a licensed medical cannabis business.
Medical cannabis would have to be tested, labeled and securely packaged, and cannabis businesses would be required to use an inventory control system.
Driving under the influence of cannabis, smoking cannabis, and using cannabis in public would still be prohibited. However, oils, edibles, topicals, and vaping of medical cannabis are permissible.
Medical cannabis would be exempt from sales tax. Revenue from program fees would be used to offset expenses for the medical cannabis program.
The Department of Health would issue patient cards by March 1, 2020.
"YES" Vote Means
Patients with specific medical conditions will be able, with a doctor’s recommendation, to legally obtain and use limited amounts of medical cannabis provided by businesses that are licensed for this purpose and subject to a variety of legal restrictions.
"NO" Vote Means
There will be no change to current laws regarding cannabis. Instead, the state would continue implementation of laws passed during the 2018 General Session which allows the state to cultivate cannabis, and for the possession of cannabis by those suffering from terminal illnesses.
Arguments for Medical Cannabis
- Medical cannabis can be used to treat chronic pain and to ease the symptoms of a variety of illnesses including multiple sclerosis and seizures.
- Medical cannabis could help curb the opioid epidemic. Several studies suggest that legalizing medical cannabis could lead to a decrease in opioid deaths, including one study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that concluded, “Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.”
- Utah’s program follows policy precedents set by a majority of states. A total of 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana; the laws were enacted before 2010 in half of these states.
Arguments Against Medical Cannabis
- Further clinical research is needed to determine effectiveness, safety and dosage levels of medical cannabis.
- Marijuana (cannabis) is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule I drug, defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
- For a complete list of arguments developed against this initiative, see this analysis compiled by Kirton & McConkie at the request of its client, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, the Libertas Institute issued a comprehensive rebuttal to this analysis, which you can see here.
This ballot initiative builds on a 2016 bill, Medical Cannabis Act, which failed to pass the House Health and Human Services Committee in an 8-4 vote. A more limited bill, Cannabis-Based Medicine Amendments, which would allow medical use of marijuana only in cannabidiol form, was introduced in the same session. It passed the Senate in an 18-8 vote, but was never brought up for a House vote because of lack of funds for implementation.
In 2017, a bill aimed at supporting research on medical cannabis was passed by the legislature. Cannabinoid Research allows possession and distribution of cannabis only for studies approved by institutional review boards.
Polls indicating that Utahns are in favor of legalizing medical cannabis were considered in the decision to file this ballot initiative. A 2017 poll commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project found that “nearly three-quarters of likely voters support a state ballot measure to establish medical marijuana in Utah.” In 2016, a Utah Policy poll found that 66 percent of Utah voters approved of legalizing medical marijuana.
Ongoing costs of the medical-marijuana program are expected to include staffing, administration, technology and office expenses related to running aspects of the program including the electronic verification system and the inventory control system with real-time tracking.
During the 2018 General Session, the Utah State Legislature passed two bills sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw that implement a medical cannabis scheme that would be more limited than this initiative. H.B. 197 allows the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to cultivate and process cannabis and establish a state dispensary for medical cannabis. It also directs the Department of Financial Institutions to make financial requirements related to cannabis licenses. H.B. 195 allows terminally ill patients, those with less than six months to live, to receive a recommendation for medical cannabis treatment from a physician.
Estimated total fiscal expenses: $2.9 million ($1.1 million one-time, $1.8 million ongoing), according to the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget. General state revenues would pay for all one-time costs and $400,000 in ongoing costs; fee collections would cover $1.4 million in ongoing costs.
An estimated $1.6 million in potential sales-tax revenue will not be realized because of the tax exemption.
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All information regarding the initiative was taken directly from the initiative application. Arguments and important groups were taken from newspapers, websites, and groups. Citations are embedded directly in the text.
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