Senate and House vote against state-run medical cannabis distribution system, approve private pharmacies

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Utah lawmakers voted to end a state-run medical cannabis distribution system during a special session on Monday, Sept. 17. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Utah lawmakers dismissed a planned state-run medical cannabis dispensary system after they considered patient access, the quality of cannabis and an appeals board’s concerns.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers is responsible for composing a revised plan for the distribution of medical cannabis. He said it’s necessary to “treat it just like we treat other dangerous drugs so we can prescribe them to people through a legal process.”

A state regulatory appeals board called into question the creation and distribution of medical cannabis, fearing there will not be enough cannabis for those in need. The board claims the state erred in choosing only eight growers for the program set to launch in 2020 when lawmakers had initially agreed on 10 licensed growers.

State agriculture officials gave numerous reasons for issuing eight licenses instead of the initial 10, one of them being an effort to avoid an oversupply of the drug. However, following the special session on Monday, lawmakers agreed on a bill that allowed for 14 privately-run dispensaries.

Dependent on market necessity, the Utah Department of Health will consider adding more if needed. Lawmakers are taking into consideration various perspectives of those for and against medical cannabis as they rush to create a working program to be enforced by March 2020.

Along with a surplus of medical cannabis comes the responsibility of legal and effective distribution to patients with a medical card, which allows them to possess medical cannabis. Ensuring that medical cards are issued to those in need is another issue lawmakers need to resolve.

Although people may see this as a step in the right direction, some county attorneys voiced concern that using health departments as pickup points could possibly make employees de facto drug dealers.

There are also concerns about the number of dispensaries available to Utahns in rural areas and who qualifies for a medical cannabis card.

As lawmakers addressed the concerns in the special session Sept. 16, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, claimed it is “typically better to address things in the general session, but medical cannabis is one of the three most complicated topics we’ve discussed in the last 10 years.”

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