On December 3, Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah signed the Utah Medical Cannabis Act into law. The act, which was passed by the legislature in a special session, replaces the initiative passed by voters in November.
Under Utah law, the legislature has the power to amend passed initiatives with a majority vote. Soon after Proposition 2 passed with the support of 52% of the popular vote, the governor asked for a special session of the legislature to alter the newly passed proposition. The Mormon Church, which has significant influence in the state, had opposed passage of Proposition 2, claiming that it was not opposed to medical cannabis but was opposed to the initiative. After the election, the church called on the government to amend Proposition 2. “Proposition 2 is not the right answer,” said one church spokesman. Another opponent said the measure “goes too far.” One concern voiced by opponents was that under Proposition 2, edibles would be appealing to children.
According to KUTV, the act amends Proposition 2 to allow “cubed shaped“ lozenges in place of the initiative’s less restrictive rules for edibles. In addition, the list of conditions eligible for medical cannabis has been shortened, medical cannabis will not be allowed at hospices, bud will only be allowed in “blister packs,” and records of medical patients will be kept longer. The act sets the number of cultivation facilities at 15. The initiative allowed for 40 dispensaries; the act calls for five “pharmacies.” (A federally regulated pharmacy cannot dispense cannabis.) Regarding appeal to children, the act states that: “A cannabis processing facility may not produce a cannabis product in a physical form that: (a) the facility knows or should know appeals to children; (b) is designed to mimic or could be mistaken for a candy product; or (c) for a product used in vaporization, includes a candy-like flavor or another flavor that the facility knows or should know appeals to children.” The act also provides that childproof packaging be used for cannabis and cannabis product and that the state regulatory agency “may seize, embargo, or destroy” cannabis batches submitted for testing that the testing lab determines is “unsafe for human consumption.”
— Gov. Gary Herbert (@GovHerbert) December 4, 2018
In tweets, the governor said “I just signed the Utah Medical Cannabis Act into law. Utah now has the best-designed medical cannabis program in the country,” “This is an example of how collaboration makes Utah the best-managed state in the nation. Proponents and opponents came together to honor the voice of Utah voters who compassionately stood up for Utah patients,” and “They provided for access to medical cannabis, while closing loopholes that have created significant problems in other states that have legalized medical cannabis.”
Replies to the governor’s tweets were not entirely favorable. For example, one twitter user identified as Guy Durrant wrote: “I am active LDS and I voted FOR Proposition 2. I am deeply offended that you, the LDS Church and the legislature run roughshod over the will of the people of this state as expressed in an election. Shame on all of you.” Another Twitter user identified as Penny wrote: “I foresee lawsuits against the state 4 this.” Penny’s prediction was correct: two lawsuits have been filed against the legislature’s revision of the initiative.”
One of the lawsuits was filed by Rocky Anderson, a former mayor of Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake Tribune quotes him as saying:
“The almost immediate extreme undermining of numerous provisions of Proposition 2 at the behest of The Church of Jesus Christ is anti-democratic and contemptuous of the… recognition in the Utah Constitution that the people are to have the power to enact legislative changes.”
While the lawsuits may have little chance of striking down the act, they show that the actions of the governor and legislature to alter the initiative do not meet with the approval of many in the state. Before trial, courts routinely ask the parties to settle their differences.
What do you think? Will the lawsuits induce the legislature to compromise? Leave a comment below.