Summit County Sheriff needs time to figure out nuances of Prop 2 alternative
When Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez learned the Utah Legislature had approved an alternative to Proposition 2, he says he was disappointed.
Utah voters approved Proposition 2, which legalized access to medical marijuana for people suffering from debilitating and terminal illnesses, in November. The measure went into effect on Dec. 1.
But, less than two days later, the state Legislature overwhelmingly passed the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, which was touted as a compromise between supporters and opponents of Proposition 2. People on both sides of the issue worked closely together to come up with the measure, which allows the state to more tightly control the medical marijuana industry.
Martinez said voters’ approval of the ballot measure should have been upheld.
“I was sincerely disappointed in the Legislature after voters said this is what they wanted,” Martinez said. “I think that disenfranchises the voters and I think that was unfortunate.”
The replacement legislation requires more involvement from various state agencies for tracking and dispensing medical marijuana, namely the Utah Department of Health. The departments of Agriculture and Food, Public Safety and Technology Services will also be heavily involved in creating a system for recommendation, dispensing and record keeping.
Martinez is now left with determining how the legalization of medical marijuana will impact law enforcement throughout the county. He anticipates having several lengthy discussions with Margaret Olson, Summit County attorney, in the coming months to better understand the nuances of the new law and what it means if a deputy pulls someone over and finds medical marijuana. Patients who meet the criteria outlined in the Medical Cannabis Act can legally psosess medical marijuana without a state-issued card prior to Jan. 2021.
“If they have a legal card and are within their prescribed limits, I anticipate that we will bid them a good day,” he said. “But, there still needs to be a lot of discussions with regards to how we will approach this.”
Martinez said a majority of the department’s drug busts are based on a K-9 dog’s ability to smell and detect THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. But, under the new law, only edible forms of marijuana will be allowed for medical patients.
“Now we may have to re-train our dogs because they won’t be able to differentiate between edibles and marijuana in its raw form,” he said. “Then it becomes a matter of are we violating their due process because a dog indicated on an edible? There are a lot of questions that I have and we will need to determine those answers before this goes into effect.”
Utah’s proximity to other states where recreational and medical marijuana is allowed could also pose enforcement challenges for law enforcement, Martinez said. He added, “We won’t be able to determine where they got it from so what does that mean for us?”
Under the compromise legislation, the Utah Department of Health is required to establish a state-run medical cannabis pharmacy before July 1, 2020. The Department of Health is scheduled to begin issuing medical cannabis cards on or before March 1, 2020. Individual health departments will be responsible for distributing the marijuana to patients in their communities in 2021.
“This is unchartered water for everyone — law enforcement and prosecutors,” Martinez said. “I truly believe the conversation or the legalities of legal medical marijuana will change multiple times before it is go time. We are all just trying to figure this out. I’m glad we have been given some time to try and put all of these pieces together.”
State lawmakers are expected to continue reviewing the compromise legislation before the law goes into effect, indicating it may be further tweaked in the coming legislative sessions. Martinez said it would be better to wait until the measure is finalized and any pending lawsuits are decided before he makes any definitive statements about how his office will be affected by the legalization of medical marijuana.
“We need to understand how the compromise stacks up in the court of law first,” he said. “There are so many unknowns at this time and lawsuits challenging it that it is hard to really prepare for an end result that we just don’t know what that looks like yet. Until then, we will continue to monitor, evaluate and train on the latest and greatest laws that we are presented with.”
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Jenn Armstrong-Solomon provides the services of her trauma-sensitive yoga nonprofit, Tall Mountain Wellness, free of charge to groups like the Summit County Drug Court and the county jail.