Local legislators prepare for special session on medical marijuana

Utah House of Representatives at work during the 2019 Legislative session Utah Capitol.

LOGAN – Utah Governor Gary Herbert has called a special legislative session to debate changes to the state’s laws on medical marijuana.

The special session will be September 16.

I feel like this is more of a cleanup special session,” said Rep. Casey Snider, R-District 5.

“There’s not going to be any real big shifts in policy, in my mind. Mostly, making a few adjustments that need to be made so that the bill we ran last session can move forward as intended and we can keep some of the commitments to the public,” he said.

Snider and other lawmakers will consider 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 to Utah patients through county health departments.

Lawmakers are looking to get rid of the state-run option and 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.

Herbert said in a statement Thursday he wants to make sure the program rolls out on time in March 2020. “Removing the requirement for a state central fill pharmacy will provide efficient and timely distribution of this substance for those who need it,” the statement read.

State Senator Lyle Hillyard, who represents Cache and Rich counties, agreed that keeping the voter approved time schedule was key. He said the public will have an opportunity to give input on the proposal during a committee hearing September 9, on Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City.

“I tell people if you read and understand what the legislature’s done as we’ve fine-tuned this thing, if you want medical marijuana for medical needs you’ll be very glad with what we’ve done. If you want it for recreational use, you won’t like what we’ve done. We think the will of the people was basically they wanted medical marijuana and that’s what we’ve been working to do,” he explained.

Six additional items will be up for consideration during the special session, including funding for the 2020 census and the transportation and storage of beer.

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