Utah lawmakers have scrapped plans to dispense cannabis out of county health departments and, instead, approved a plan to allow 14 privately-run dispensaries, Fox13 reports. The plan, which was approved by lawmakers amending the voter-approved medical cannabis ballot measure, came under fire by county attorneys who said dispensing at health departments would turn state employees into drug dealers who could face federal charges for their role in the system.
Last month, Jennifer Moughalian, the acting assistant secretary for financial resources at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert (R) approving the legislature’s plan and assuring him that the plan would “not affect the State’s eligibility to apply for HHS grants nor will it affect the outcome of the State’s application.” Despite the assurance, state lawmakers made the changes, which puts the state’s medical cannabis law more in line with what was approved by voters last year.
The legislature-approved replacement law is still being fought in court by activists who led the ballot initiative; in August a judge ruled against activist group the People’s Right, who claimed that the legislature ran afoul of the state constitution by replacing the measure. The case brought by the Epilepsy Association of Utah, and Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) claims that the legislature’s version of the program will stymie patient access – that case is still working its way through the courts.
Christine Stenquist, founder of TRUCE, said that while the recent changes move the bill more in line with what voters approved, it’s not happening fast enough.
“Because we are dealing with patients, with a fragile population, and we don’t have time for political games and that’s what we’re dealing with, is political pandering to the powers in the state.” – Stenquist, to Fox13
The legislature’s bill was a compromise between supporters – like the Utah Patients Coalition and Libertas Institute – and opponents like the Utah Medical Association and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The vote to reform the dispensing changes were approved by the legislature unanimously during a special session.