The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has told Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) that the state’s plan to use county health departments to dispense medical cannabis would not jeopardize its federal funding, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The letter from Jennifer Moughalian, the acting assistant secretary for financial resources at HHS, comes as Utah lawmakers consider retooling the state’s medical cannabis distribution system due to concerns that the plan violates federal law.
“Utah’s Medical Marijuana law will not affect the State’s eligibility to apply for HHS grants nor will it affect the outcome of the State’s application,” Moughalian said in the letter.
Moughalian did note that funds that come from HHS may not be “utilized directly or indirectly to support any program or initiative (other than research) associated with marijuana – not just in Utah but nationwide” since cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance federally.
“Medical marijuana is not an allowable cost under HHS grants awards; the post-award program evaluations and audits will examine the allowability of all costs.” – Moughalian, in the July 19 letter
At least one Utah official, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sam Gill, has previously said he would advise health departments in the county to not participate in the program since dispensing medical cannabis is in “direct conflict with federal law.”
Connor Boyack, founder of the libertarian Libertas Institute, who helped craft the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, told the Tribune it is “great” to have federal reassurance but noted the “letter is unbinding and subject to change at any time.”
“So counties have felt like that’s an insufficient reassurance that they will be forever legally protected and have access to federal funding if they were to be involved in distributing a federally illegal substance,” he said.
In a statement, Herbert defended the law – a voter-approved initiative amended by the legislature – saying “any suggestion that the current law would require county employees to be ‘drug dealers’ is unprofessional and inappropriate.”
Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers (R) has indicated that lawmakers could hold a special session to fix the medical cannabis distribution issues this month.