Legislature passes pot bill

By Doug McMurdo • The Times-Independent

How medical marijuana will be distributed, how many dispensaries can be in operation and a limit on edibles were among the issues agreed upon Monday when members of the Utah House of Representatives and Senate approved a bill that would replace the voter-sanctioned Proposition 2 in the Nov. 6 election.

Monday’s special session lasted several hours and the vote was largely along partisan lines, with minority Democrats chastising their colleagues across the aisle for ignoring the will of voters.

Proposition 2 passed by a wide margin in Grand County, and by narrower votes elsewhere in Utah.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill on Monday, and it went into effect at that time.

“This is a historic day,” said House Speaker Greg Hughes in a statement. “With the passage of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, Utah now has the best-designed medical cannabis program in the country. Working with trained medical professionals, qualified patients in Utah will be able to receive quality-controlled cannabis products from a licensed pharmacist in medical dosage form. And this will be done in a way that prevents diversion of product into a black market.”

There are concerns medical marijuana will not be available in rural Utah as the bill cuts down the number of private medical marijuana offices compared to what was spelled out in Prop 2, which would have permitted 40. The new bill calls for seven cannabis “pharmacies.”

Utah Rep. Christine Watkins, Price, told the Salt Lake Tribune the reduction in dispensaries will disadvantage her constituents in rural eastern Utah since many people see nurse practitioners rather than physicians and there are few medical doctors on staff at small hospitals. Watkins told the newspaper she plans on submitting a substitute bill that would include physician assistants and nurse practitioners in the program.

Prop 2 also allowed patients to consume edibles while the bill approved Monday only allows gelatin cubes. Those who suffer with an autoimmune disease, with the exception of Chrohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, won’t be eligible for a marijuana prescription. They would have been under Prop 2.

People 21 and older only need to get a prescription from a doctor, but adults 18-20 must get permission to use cannabis from a so-called “compassionate use board” comprised of appointed physicians.