As part of November’s Midterms, on November 7th, Utah voters approved of Proposition 2 – legalizing medicinal cannabis and ending statewide prohibition.
Proposition 2 included specific wording that would have allowed for a reasonably expansive list of qualifying conditions; including chronic pain. It also allowed for any patient living outside of 100 miles of a dispensary to grow and possess up to 6 plants for medicinal purposes.
The ballot proposition also included several limitations, going so far as to exempt the act of smoking raw cannabis and limiting the program to edibles, vaping, and other methods of consumption.
Despite its limitations, in comparison to the new bill drafted through the Utah State Legislature, Proposition 2 offered a much more expansive, and fair program for all Utahans.
How we got here
When word of Proposition 2 first spread, expectations weren’t too high. Utah is historically known for being a conservative state – one that features some of the strictest alcohol & tobacco regulations, limiting alcohol retailers to selling beer that comes with a alc. % no greater than 4%.
But then early polling came out, suggesting that more than 64% of voters were “somewhat” or “strongly” in support of legalizing medicinal cannabis.
In response to the pro-cannabis polling, Drug Safe Utah, D.A.R.E., Utah’s Medical Association, and the LDS Church contributed more than $250,000 in campaign financing, helping create anti-cannabis advertisements that were aired on radios and televisions across the state.
But the radio and TV ads weren’t enough, as the polls barely moved. Weeks leading up to November’s elections it was becoming clear that Proposition 2 was destined to pass, leading opponents of the bill scrambling for a solution – which came with an ‘endorsement’ and compromise.
In early October, the Mormon church joined Gov. Gary Herbert & other Utah lawmakers to announce their unique compromise. Regardless of the outcomes of Proposition 2 – the state promised to legalize medicinal cannabis and would work with all stakeholders to develop a program that would soon be fleshed out.
The compromise was spun as a joint-decision, one that advocates happily accepted. But many residents, and outspoken proponents of cannabis, were weary of the deal as the state has a Republican-dominated legislature, a group that has helped implement strict drug policies in the recent past.
“It’s an absolute sham. When you sit there, and you make the citizens of Utah jump through the hoops you jump through to pass an initiative and the first business day you undermine and remove our voice? That’s a problem,” stated TRUCE President Christine Stenquist to reporters on Dec. 3rd. Stenquist and TRUCE are currently filing a lawsuit against the LDS Church and leaders of the compromised deal.
This week, the Utah Medical Cannabis Act easily passed through the House 60-13, and the Senate 22-4. Gov. Herbert signed the measure into law Monday night, making it official. Despite voter demands, Proposition 2 was completely discarded and replaced with a bill drafted by lawmakers & the LDS Church.
“With the passage of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, Utah now has the best-designed medical cannabis program in the country,” boasted Herbert during the initial news release.
The new bill will severely limit qualifying conditions, and unlike Proposition 2, doesn’t include specific wording that highlights cannabis as an alternative to opioid-based prescription drugs. The new measure also limits the number of approved doctors and physicians who can recommend and prescribe medicinal cannabis, which will likely include longer waiting processes for all residents hoping to become patients.
Essentially, the Utah Medical Cannabis Act is reserved for Utahans who are suffering from a terminal illness. Outside of the that, the program will remain extremely limited – which was never the intention of the original proposals drafted through Proposition 2.