Andrew Smith

Utah to Rework Cannabis Distribution Rules

Utah lawmakers are planning to change the state’s medical cannabis program, which was created in the first place as a legislative replacement for the voter-approved program that lawmakers said would be untenable, as the current program conflicts too directly with federal rules.

Full story after the jump.

Utah officials and legislative leaders are working on a new way to distribute medical cannabis in the state amid concerns that the current plans to use county health departments as ‘pharmacies’ will run afoul of federal law, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The plan to use health departments to dispense medical cannabis was approved by lawmakers who amended a voter-approved law.

The Legislature-approved bill only allows for seven private cannabis pharmacies which would distribute medical cannabis products to local health departments for patient pickup. Lawmakers and officials say that the plan essentially makes county health workers who distribute the products to patients ‘drug dealers.’

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told the Tribune that he knew from the outset that the Legislature’s plan put the state “in direct conflict with federal law” and would not allow the county to distribute the products because that would put “millions and millions of dollars in grants at risk.”

The medical cannabis law does include a provision allowing a private company to open a “central fill” location in the event that the government-run location never opened or closed; however, regulators and lawmakers have yet to determine whether they would invoke that clause. Another plan would allow additional dispensaries to open in the event no central fill opens at all. That plan would add three additional, privately-owned, dispensaries.

Desiree Hennessy, director of the Utah Patients Coalition, which backed the ballot initiative, said her organization preferred a network of private facilities – as outlined by Prop 2.

“We don’t think government should ever compete with private industry,” she said to the Tribune.

House Democratic leaders issued a statement criticizing Republicans for their handling of the medical cannabis law and the fallout that’s ensued.

“Legislative leadership told Utah that Proposition 2 – Medical Cannabis, which the voters passed, needed to be replaced because it would not function. Now it looks like their replacement plan also will not function.” – Utah House Democrats, in a statement, via the Tribune

Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers (R) said lawmakers are “pretty close to having a solution that would minimize, if not eliminate, risk for local health departments.” He indicated that the Legislature might call a special session to pass an amendment to the law.

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