State begins implementing medical cannabis law
Last update: July 10, 2019
After state legislators approved a compromise medical cannabis law in December last year — spurred by a voter-approved medical cannabis ballot initiative — officials have taken steps to establish a functional program for patients with debilitating health conditions.
At the conclusion of the state’s legislative session earlier this year, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed SB 161 to make a number of modifications to the state’s medical cannabis program, such as prohibiting discrimination against medical cannabis patients in family court matters.
Utah’s Department of Agriculture and Food says that over 80 farmers have applied to supply medical cannabis for the state. In total, the department can award up to 10 licenses under the current law. The Utah Senate also confirmed seven physicians to serve on the Compassionate Use Board, which is charged with overseeing the program. The Utah Patients Coalition praised the selection.
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Utah Legislature enacts changes to the medical cannabis law approved by voters
On November 6, 2018, Utah voters approved Proposition 2, which legalized the use of medical cannabis for qualified patients. The law went into effect on December 1, 2018, but a special legislative session was convened shortly thereafter. Lawmakers replaced Prop 2 with a "compromise" bill agreed to by both proponents and opponents of Prop 2 prior to the election. The replacement legislation includes tighter restrictions on patient access and a greater level of state oversight. Here are some of the details of the law:
Patient licenses: A patient may submit an application to the Utah Department of Health to receive a medical cannabis registration card if he or she has received a recommendation from a registered healthcare provider (MD, DO, APRN, or PA). Once the program is operational in 2020, physicians will be able to issue patient recommendations through an online program. Utah patients must obtain a recommendation from a health provider in Utah. Patient registration cards are initially valid for one month. Thereafter, the registration card can be renewed continually in six-month intervals.
Qualifying conditions: HIV, Alzheimer's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cancer, cachexia, persistent nausea that is not significantly responsive to traditional treatment (except nausea caused by pregnancy, cannabis-induced vomiting syndrome, or cannabinioid hyperemesis syndrome), Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, epilepsy, debilitating seizures, multiple sclerosis, debilitating muscle spasms, PTSD (provided certain conditions are met), autism, a terminal illness (with six months or fewer remaining), a condition resulting in an individual receiving hospice care, and chronic pain (provided that certain conditions are met). Patients may also petition the "compassionate use board" to become a qualifying patient for other conditions.
Minor patients: Patients under the age of 18 may register as a qualifying patient if they receive approval from the compassionate use board. A parent or guardian must also obtain a "medical cannabis guardian card." Minor patients are not permitted to enter medical cannabis pharmacies. Patients aged 18, 19, or 20 must petition the compassionate use board in order to receive a patient license.
Visiting patients: Provided that they have been diagnosed with a qualifying condition approved under Utah law, out-of-state patients have legal protections if they aren't a resident, have a card from another state, and possess cannabis in a form allowed under Utah law.
Physicians: A healthcare provider may not issue recommendations for medical cannabis unless he or she has registered and been deemed qualified by the health department. Qualifications include: completing appropriate continuing medical education courses, having authority to prescribe Schedule II drugs, and being a state-licensed physician, registered nurse, or physician's assistant. Physicians must pay a fee of $300 to complete the registration process. Registrations must be renewed every two years. Initially, healthcare providers will not be limited in the number of medical marijuana recommendations they can issue to patients. Once the program is fully implemented, though, general practice providers will be limited to 175 patient recommendations. Some specialists, such as oncologists, neurologists, and others, will be limited to 300. These specialists may also petition the health department to increase their limit to 600.
Caregivers: Patients may designate up to two caregivers to assist with the access and use of medical cannabis. Caregivers are not permitted to cultivate cannabis.
Possession limits: Patients are only permitted to possess medical cannabis in single-dosage forms in amounts prescribed by their doctor or a pharmacist from a state-licensed medical cannabis pharmacy. Flower or bud is only permitted in single-dose increments contained in blister packs. Marijuana may also be dispensed in the following forms: tablets, capsules, concentrated oil, liquid suspension, topicals, transdermal patches, sublingual preparations, and lozenges. Patients are not permitted to cultivate their own medical cannabis. Patients are allowed to possess the lesser of: a) a one-month supply based on the dosage amount specified by their doctor or state-licensed pharmacist at a medical cannabis pharmacy; or b) four ounces of flower or 20 grams THC.
Anti-discrimination protections: Registered healthcare providers and patients are protected from criminal and civil liability, provided they comply with the law. Patients may not be denied access to organ transplants. State employees may not be disciplined or discriminated against on the basis of their status as a registered patient and their use of medical cannabis in compliance with the law. The law prohibits courts from considering the lawful use of medical cannabis in custody hearings.
Medical cannabis access: The Utah Medical Cannabis Act requires registered patients to purchase cannabis from medical cannabis pharmacies, which must employ at least one state-licensed pharmacist and may dispense cannabis products only in specific dosages based on the patient's medical needs. Seven to 10 pharmacies will be established within the state. Pharmacies may not sell an amount greater than a 14-day supply to patients based on their allotted dosage requirements. The state will also regulate and license cultivation facilities, testing facilities, and processors. State agencies will establish an electronic monitoring system to track all cannabis products from the point of cultivation to the point of sale to registered patients.
Localities: Municipalities may not prohibit the establishment of medical cannabis facilities but may impose additional regulations consistent with state law. Medical cannabis establishments are not permitted within 1,000 feet of a "community location" (defined as schools, churches, etc.) or within 600 of a residential area unless the municipality permits it.
Paraphernalia: Smoking is prohibited under Utah’s medical marijuana law. The Utah Medical Cannabis Act does not protect individuals from criminal liability for possessing devices that facilitate the combustion of cannabis. The vaporization of cannabis products with use of a heated nail is also prohibited.
Research: The medical cannabis law establishes a cannabinoid product board tasked with researching the effectiveness and appropriate dosage amounts of medical cannabis for specific medical conditions.
Affirmative defense: Prior to 2020 when the health department is required to begin issuing patient registration cards, a patient may be found “not guilty” of marijuana possession if they: 1) were previously diagnosed with a qualifying condition; 2) had a physician recommend the use of cannabis (written or verbal); and 3) possessed marijuana in one of the approved forms.
Taxes: Medical cannabis products are exempt from taxes, including the state sales tax.
Timeline: On or before January 1, 2020, the Department of Agriculture and Food will begin accepting medical cannabis facility applications. On or before March 1, 2020, the Department of Health will begin accepting applications for patient registration cards. The department has 15 days to approve or reject patient applications.
Utahns approve Proposition 2 to legalize medical cannabis!
On November 6, 2018, voters approved the Utah Medical Cannabis Act (Prop 2) by a 53-47 margin, representing a major victory for medical marijuana advocates who have fought for years to establish a compassionate program. Patients and their families will soon be able to safely access a medicine that holds the potential to significantly alleviate many painful and debilitating health conditions.
Utah joined Missouri and Oklahoma on the list of states that approved medical marijuana laws in 2018. The measure became effective on December 1. MPP is proud to have supported the Utah Patients Coalition (the campaign behind Prop 2) in a number of important ways, including helping the campaign organize the signature petition drive, draft the initiative, and fundraise.
Prior to the election, leaders from the Utah Patients Coalition, MPP, the Church of Latter Day Saints, and the Utah Legislature collaboratively negotiated a medical cannabis compromise proposal, which will establish a functional medical cannabis program, but with more restrictions than Proposal 2. Before the election, all parties agreed to support the compromise plan, regardless of the outcome of Proposal 2. The governor, House Speaker, and Senate President all publicly pledged their commitment to the deal.
Given that Utah law permits the state legislature to amend voter initiatives with a simple majority vote, medical marijuana advocates and leaders of the Prop 2 campaign believed the best way to ensure the implementation of a medical cannabis law was to support this compromise. A special legislative session to address medical cannabis convened early in December.
Decriminalization and prohibition
Under current Utah law, possession of as little as an ounce or less of marijuana can result in a six-month jail sentence. Unfortunately, minority and low-income communities in Utah are disproportionately the ones who face these draconian penalties. The ACLU recently found that black Utahans are over three and three-quarters times as likely to get arrested for marijuana possession as their white neighbors.
Write your legislators and ask them to reduce the penalty for marijuana possession to a more reasonable non-criminal fine.
Stay up-to-date on the status of marijuana policy reform in Utah, by subscribing to MPP’s action alerts!
If you are a patient, a medical professional, a law enforcement official, or a clergy member, please email email@example.com to see how you can be of special help in future efforts to get sensible marijuana legislation introduced in Utah.