Opponents, supporters of Prop 2 press on in wake of medical marijuana compromise
Critics argue that Utah’s Proposition 2, the statewide ballot initiative that would allow access to medical marijuana for terminally and chronically ill patients, would significantly increase recreational marijuana use.
They argue there are not enough safeguards and restrictions in place to prevent people who did not receive a doctor’s recommendation for marijuana from gaining possession of the drug.
To address those concerns, detractors and proponents of Proposition 2 have negotiated a compromise that would still allow for the use of medical marijuana by patients with a doctor’s recommendation.
Earlier this month, lawmakers released the draft of a 126-page bill to be considered by the Utah Legislature during a special session after the election. Governor Gary Herbert said he would call the session to pass the legislation regardless of whether the initiative passes.
But, many supporters of Proposition 2 say it is still critical for the ballot initiative to pass to ensure lawmakers will convene in a special session as promised.
DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition, which spearheaded the initiative, has been directly involved in the negotiations of the compromise. He said the passing of Proposition 2 would send the message to lawmakers that ‘I stand with patients.’
“It sends a clear message that patients are not criminals like they have been portrayed to be for years,” he said.
The compromise outlines regulations for the cultivation of medical marijuana, the processing of doctor’s recommendations and patient procurement of the drug. It has been lauded as a way to provide access to medical marijuana without putting communities at risk.
Justin Arriola, a board member of the organization Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE), said, however, that the compromise includes several provisions that are already included in Proposition 2, which he views as already structurally sound.
He is skeptical of the Legislature’s intent to pass the compromise if Proposition 2 fails. He cautioned against voters relying on lawmakers. Arriola said his main message is still: Proposition 2 or nothing. He added that a special session is not needed when the measure could be reviewed in regular session if it is approved.
“Whether people want the compromise or Prop 2, the only way to get either one of those is to pass Prop 2,” Arriola said. “That has to be the goal for anyone who wants medical marijuana in the state. Without Prop 2, there is no reason for the state to compromise. We’ve been having these conversations with the Legislature for four years. Only now do they decide they want to look at it. They knew this was going to pass and now they are backed into a corner.”
The compromise aims to ease many of the concerns of opponents of the ballot measure. Several organizations, including the Utah Sheriff’s Association, Utah Psychiatric Association and Utah Medical Association, say Proposition 2 is not the best method for legalizing medical marijuana and are in favor of the new bill.
Michelle McOmber, CEO of the Utah Medical Association, said there are several concerning elements in Proposition 2, including who can recommend a patient receive medical marijuana and a perceived lack of oversight for patients to gain access.
“One of the things that really concerns us is the ability to basically go into a dispensary and choose your own product,” she said. “The only real contact that an individual has with a medical provider, which can be a physician, dentist, podiatrist or an optometrist, is when they recommend a medical card.”
McOmber said if medical cannabis is going to be legalized, it needs to resemble medicine. She suggested patients be able to pick up cannabis in a state-run pharmacy and local governments have more control, regulations that are outlined in the compromise.
“If we are really trying to make this medical and bring this in for those who could be helped by medical marijuana, then we need to do it in a way that resembles medicine that is dosed by a physician and given to a patient,” she said. “There are so many holes in the initiative. All of these things really look like recreational.”
McOmber argues Proposition 2 was based on old statues and would reverse laws that have already been passed, such as research bills and the allowance of CBD oil statewide.
“We don’t want to pull back those laws that allowed things to happen in Utah,” she said. “To pass Prop 2 when the proponents and opposition have been working on this comprised bill and then say we have to fix it anyway? It makes no sense.”
Supporters of Proposition 2 say that many of the arguments opponents have propagated are false. They contend the measure is a “highly conservative approach” to allow medical cannabis in the state for patients only.
Schanz referred to it as “extremely conservative.” He said it is more regulated than similar legislation in other states where medical cannabis is allowed.
Schanz highlighted some of the restrictions in the initiative: only 2 ounces can be bought every two weeks; only those with a specific list of medical conditions would qualify; doctors can only prescribe marijuana to up to 20 percent of their clientele; and a limited number of dispensaries would be allowed.
“It is one of the most conservatively written bills in the country,” he said.
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