Medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion discussed at town hall

LOGAN – A lot of questions for state and local lawmakers were asked during a town hall meeting Thursday night to discuss the latest on medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion in Utah.

Medicaid expansion is “a complicated process,” according to State Rep. Jim Dunnigan. Dunnigan sponsored SB96, the legislative alternative to full Medicaid expansion approved by voters in 2018.

SB96, however, requires federal approval of various provisions, the first of which was denied last week by the Trump administration.

Dunnigan said Republican legislative leaders “want a program that is sustainable” and will continue to work with the administration to ensure that Medicaid expansion provides coverage for Utahns in need without creating a financial burden on taxpayers.

For more information about the Utah Medicaid program, visit medicaid.utah.gov.

In terms of medial cannabis, legislators are drafting a proposal to scrap a planned state-run medical marijuana dispensary after facing pressure from county attorneys who said the system put public employees at risk of being prosecuted under federal drug laws.

The current law, HB3001, calls for seven private dispensaries with a state-run “central fill pharmacy” distributing the remainder of medical marijuana orders through Utah’s 13 local health departments, but multiple counties expressed concerns.

Lloyd Berentzen, Bear River Health District Director, said there was a possibility of one of those dispensaries in Cache County. However, the plan has been put on hold after getting a clear message from attorneys.

“We asked them if they could tell us if we were to go forward and were trying to sustain state law and at the same time we recognize that we’re not following federal law, are they willing to step up and defend us at that point in time. This is where the answer was a little bit surprising,” said Berentzen. “They said – no”.

Berentzen said he suspects that health departments are now out of the picture altogether.

Lawmakers are looking at adding an additional five private dispensaries throughout the state, bringing the total to 12.

Some cannabis advocates applauded the proposed changes for increasing patient access. Others worry 12 dispensaries still won’t meet demand.

Governor Gary Herbert has hinted about calling a special session where those changes could be approved, though no date has been announced.

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