SALT LAKE CITY — Adjustments to the state’s medical marijuana law continued on their fast-track with final approval from the Utah House on Thursday.
Representatives unanimously passed SB121 after very little discussion, just hours after a committee gave its support Thursday morning. The bill received Senate approval on Monday. Lawmakers said earlier in the week that they wanted to put the bill before the governor by Friday as the new cannabis dispensary system is set to begin operation on Monday.
The bill is necessary for all the players in the state-administered program to get on board by then. Because it passed without dissent in both chambers, the bill becomes law upon Gov. Gary Herbert’s signature.
The bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said he expects the governor will sign the bill on Friday.
“This is the kind of thing where there’s going to be cleanup done all along the way,” said bill sponsor Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem. “We made a fairly strong promise that we would have product on the shelves as soon as humanly possible.”
In addition to allowing the state to conduct initial product testing to give the private sector time to gauge supply and demand, the bill raises patient caps for doctors, clarifies that private employers don’t need to allow marijuana use and requires the raw marijuana flower to be packaged in sealed containers with a 60-day expiration date, among other provisions.
Opponents argued that the 154-page bill increases access for teens or doesn’t ensure financial sustainability of the program, but Connor Boyack, of the Libertas Institute, said those claims are false. He told members of the House Health and Human Services Committee that while the bill may be imperfect, it is a work in progress and has included lengthy discussion from all positions.
“There’s going to be people on all sides of this,” Daw said. “Some people are furious that we’re not going far enough. There’s people on the other side that are furious we’re going too far.”
Lawmakers, he said, have always intended to treat medical cannabis “like a medicine” if it can be used with a medicinal benefit.
“If it can help patients, let’s find a way to get it to them,” Daw said, adding that he’d rather the federal Food and Drug Administration take over the regulation of marijuana. “There’s enough evidence out there that people generally benefit from this type of medication and I think we have a moral and ethical obligation to get it to them in a way that does not create a lot of abuse.”
The Utah Department of Health will begin accepting applications for medical cannabis patient cards online on Sunday at 9 a.m. Approval is based on patient verification, including a meeting and official recommendation from one of the now 35 registered qualified medical providers in the state, and a review by the health department, which is expected to take up to 15 or 90 days, depending on whether the patient is an adult or a minor with a qualifying condition.
Drew Rigby, director of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food’s medical cannabis program, said, “it might be some time before we have a decent patient population in the program.”
Only one pharmacy, Dragonfly Wellness, located at 711 S. State, is slated to open Monday afternoon, if it passes an inspection Friday. Another seven pharmacies plan to open by June 30 and then an additional six are slated to open after July 1.
“We look forward to Monday,” Rigby said.
HB425 has been set up to address additional issues or fixes for the program, should there be any as it rolls out next week.
In his monthly PBS Utah news conference with reporters on Thursday, Herbert did not give any indication the cannabis bill would not be signed, and in fact discussed the state’s rollout of the program.
”We anticipate there will be a rollout,” he said. “Ramping up is a hard thing to do. It is a new issue for us and not without its complexity.”
But he emphasized, medical marijuana will be available.
For more information on the state’s medical cannabis program, to apply for a patient card or register as a provider, visit medicalcannabis.utah.gov.
Contributing: Amy Joi O’Donoghue