Record editorial: More revisions to medical marijuana law may be coming. This time, that’s a good thing.
More changes may be coming to the state’s medical marijuana law. And unlike the last round of alterations legislators made to the plan voters approved in November, Utahns should support these tweaks.
One of the most important potential changes deals with how the product will be distributed to patients. Under the so-called compromise bill lawmakers passed last winter as a revision to Proposition 2, the state’s 13 local health departments are tasked with serving as dispensaries as a way to ensure patients throughout the state have access to medical cannabis.
Among those not entirely satisfied with that solution, however, are the health departments themselves. That includes the Summit County Health Department, whose director, Rich Bullough, has expressed worry that dispensing marijuana could put the department’s federal funding — which accounts for about half of its $6 million annual budget — at risk because cannabis remains a Schedule I substance. In the eyes of the federal government, the department would be an illegal drug dealer. There have also been questions about the security implications of storing and distributing cannabis.
Other counties have been even more vocal about their concerns. The Davis County attorney, for instance, went so far as advising the health department there to flatly refuse to distribute marijuana, out of fear of both the possibility of losing funding and that employees could face federal drug charges.
The concerns are valid, and lawmakers apparently did not give them enough weight as they were revising the voter-approved Proposition 2, which wisely put the responsibility — and risk of federal repercussions — of supplying cannabis solely on private dispensaries.
Lawmakers appear willing to remedy that mistake, however. According to a memo sent to legislators in August, removing the health departments from the equation is among a handful of significant changes to Utah’s medical marijuana law that may be considered at a special session in the coming weeks.
Under the proposed change, the number of private pharmacies statewide allowed to distribute the drug would be increased from seven to 12. Though medical marijuana advocates rightly argue even more pharmacies are needed to serve the entire state, the move would both alleviate the concerns of local health departments and bring the law closer to what voters supported at the polls.
Even with the alterations, the Legislature’s version of legalized medical marijuana would not be perfect. And the fact remains lawmakers were wrong in the first place to tinker with legislation that won broad support at the polls.
But the change would be a step in the right direction. Hopefully, lawmakers will take it as soon as possible.
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