Utah: Medical Cannabis Initiative Moves Forward Towards 2018 Ballot

Utah Medical Cannabis

The ballot initiative would set up state-regulated cannabis growing and dispensing operations and allow the drug to be consumed in edible forms, in topical forms or as an oil, however, smoking cannabis would not be allowed, but vaping would

By Michael Bachara
Hemp News

Medical cannabis activists in Utah have filed the necessary paperwork to get the issue before voters in 2018. The Utah Lt. Governor's Office will review the language for legality and fiscal impact to taxpayers. Before qualifying for the November 2018 ballot, the Utah Patients Coalition must hold seven public hearings throughout Utah and collect 113,143 signatures from registered voters around the state.

On Monday, in an emotional news conference, patients and advocates described how medical cannabis could provide help and support to their quality of life.

The proposed law, which mimics language from former State Sen. Mark Madsen's SB73, which nearly passed in 2016, would allow for physician supervision for prescription of cannabis. Methods of cannabis use will include topical remedies, oils, edibles and vaping.

Law enforcement will track the cannabis in a seed-to-sale system and allow for one dispensary per 150,000 residents, similar to Utah state liquor stores with prohibitions on churches, parks and schools. No smoking or public ingestion of medical cannabis would be allowed but vaping is included in the proposal.

"Home grow" is prohibited in the proposal but if the legislature attempts to tamper with the ballot initiative, the language allows for offsite personal grows.

The Utah Patients Coalition said internal polling released by the group claims 73% of Utah voters have said they would vote in favor of the ballot initiative.

"The time has come to help alleviate the pain and suffering of the most vulnerable in our society, with the help of a medicine that works for them," said Utah Patients Coalition director D.J. Schanz.

Rep. Brad Daw, (R-Orem), who has run medical marijuana legislation said he believed the ballot initiative was "completely unnecessary." He said he was already drafting legislation for the 2018 session, but acknowledged it may not go as far as some would like (for example, his bill would not allow vaping).

"We have research going on right now and we intend to have treatment available, cannabis based treatment available, after the next session," Rep. Daw said. "I’m puzzled why they’re going for it."

Desiree Hennessy, whose son, Hestevan, has Cerebral Palsy and suffers from chronic nerve pain, supports the ballot initiative. "It's a harsh reality that it is just a start. We have a lot of work to do over the next 18 months," Hennessy said. "I do believe as we educate and give the public their voice...that we can all band together and pass this."

"We took him to every doctor. We were given every pharmaceutical and nothing helped," said Hennessy, who stopped to cry as she spoke about her son.

Signatures for each Senate district must be submitted to the county clerk's office by April 15, 2017. If voted into law, dispensing in Utah would begin January 2021 and patients would receive their medical marijuana cards January 2020.

Photo Source: Kelsey Brunner, Deseret News