Governor Herbert has long advocated for public policy that can alleviate the pain and suffering of patients who could benefit from cannabis-based products. The challenge has been to do so in a way that avoids harm, misuse, abuse and diversion into a recreational black market.
That has been the aim of lawmakers for years. That is why the legislature passed a framework last session for physicians to prescribe cannabis products under certain conditions. That has also been the aim of those who campaigned to put the medical cannabis initiative, known as Proposition 2, onto the November 2018 ballot.
But there has been disagreement about the best way to achieve these ends.
The complications created by outdated federal laws have probably weighed more heavily on lawmakers than the urgent felt needs of patients and their families.
But the popular momentum behind Proposition 2 did precisely what our ballot initiative process does best — it has made lawmakers realize that they have not done as much as they could have in representing the will of the people.
Nonetheless, Governor Herbert has been concerned that Proposition 2 created serious unintended problems. Some of the problems came from unintended errors in drafting. For example, because drafters of Proposition 2 based their amendments on outdated statutes, the initiative as written inadvertently makes changes to vitally important code language about unrelated items such as child custody, Medicaid, and whistleblowers. As a result, the passage of Proposition 2 necessitates immediate legislative fixes, regardless of how anyone feels about the regulatory framework for medical marijuana.
Consequently, Governor Herbert is grateful that proponents of Proposition 2 and opponents of Proposition 2 were able to come together around their shared concern to get safe cannabis-based treatments to patients and create an effective regulatory framework for physician-recommended, pharmacy-dispensed, medicinally dosed medical cannabis in Utah.
Under this program, marijuana in medical dosage form would be distributed to patients by well-trained physicians and pharmacists who are qualified to do so. Qualified patients would get access to cannabis through specialized pharmacies or local health departments.
The cultivation, processing and distribution of medical marijuana under this system would have stringent controls in place to prevent misuse and to prevent diversion into a black market.
This agreement would give greater respect, than did the initiative, to zoning and local use laws. And the agreement would make it straightforward for law enforcement to distinguish between allowed medical use versus illegal recreational use.
With this agreement in place, Governor Herbert has announced that he will call the legislature into special session on December 3rd in order to pass a more comprehensive regulatory framework for medical marijuana in Utah.
The biggest barriers to sensible testing and access to medical marijuana have come from federal law and federal policy. In a perfect world, the federal government would have reclassified the compounds in marijuana years ago so that scientists and pharmacologists could have been testing their safety and efficacy, establishing effective dosages and identifying contraindications.
The Medical Cannabis Act