Summit County will no longer be asked to distribute medical marijuana following special session legislation
The Summit County Health Department will no longer be called upon to dole out medical marijuana after the state Legislature passed a law in special session last week.
The drug is outlawed federally, and officials have said distributing it could have jeopardized the Health Department’s federal funding, which makes up about half of its $6 million budget.
Health Department Director Rich Bullough said he was pleased with the outcome.
“It’s a big step forward and I’m very pleased both from the perspective of product being delivered, but also from the perspective of local health departments assuming risk,” he said.
The legislation changes how the medical marijuana program will be administered by removing a state central fill pharmacy, which would have collected the drug and distributed it to local health departments to get it in the hands of patients. Instead, the new legislation removes the 13 local health departments and increases the number of private dispensaries to 14.
Patients will be issued a medical cannabis card, which distributors will scan during each transaction in an effort to ensure patients don’t receive an excess amount of the drug. Distributors are required to report each sale to the state.
The new law, which Gov. Gary Herbert signed Monday, calls for a central website for patients to access care, even allowing them to order it online to be delivered to their homes by a courier service.
Medical cannabis advocate Christine Stenquist said that raises privacy concerns.
“I worry about databases that hold such delicate and sensitive information,” she said. “Why on earth does the state need to know?”
Cannabis is legal for medical and recreational use in many states, but the federal Drug Enforcement Agency classifies it as a Schedule I substance, a category for drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Large banking institutions have shied away from the marijuana industry in states where it is legal, adding security concerns for an industry that deals with large amounts of cash. That’s a concern for the proposed delivery service, Stenquist said.
Other parts of the legislation include adjusting how municipal zoning affects cannabis cultivation; allowing for patients to receive a 30-day supply, regardless of their distance from a dispensary; capping the number of patients for whom a physician can recommend cannabis at 175 unless the physician specializes in certain approved areas like palliative care; barring selling joints, but allowing vaporized cannabis; and requiring cannabis to be sold in “blister packs” like those used for individual pills like NyQuil or certain kinds of chewing gum.
Herbert called the special session to focus on reforming the medical cannabis legislation. In a press release, Herbert said his administration “is dedicated to ensuring that quality, medical grade cannabis products are accessible to patients by March of 2020.”
Utahns passed Proposition 2 by roughly 60,000 votes out of about 1.1 million votes cast in 2018. Later that year, Herbert signed H.B. 3001 into law, a compromise bill that deviated in many ways from the referendum approved by voters.
The referendum would have allowed for roughly 40 distribution points, compared to the 14 in the new legislation.
Bullough said he had planned to budget around $200,000 to prepare for and staff a distribution center. That money will now likely go toward behavioral health services.
He said county health departments were given a draft of the legislation before the special session to make sure it met with the departments’ concerns, which it did. He added he was glad their voices were heard.
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