HB 197: State Monopoly of Marijuana Production
This bill passed the House with a vote of 38-32 and the Senate with a vote of 20-5.
Complimenting other “medical cannabis” legislation this session, Representative Brad Daw and Senator Evan Vickers are also sponsoring House Bill 197 which tasks the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, a state bureaucracy, with growing and producing cannabis for “academic or medical research purposes.” The bill allows the agency to contract with a third party to fulfill this duty—creating a monopoly situation in which we can expect high prices and low quality in the absence of competition and variety.
The bill also requires the agency to create administrative rules to ensure that the state-grown cannabis is from “state-approved seed sources” (without defining what this means) and that a third party doing it on behalf of the agency has “sufficient security protocols”—giving wide latitude to bureaucrats to determine what these policies are.
After several years of legislative inaction, Utah voters are likely to have a chance to vote on a comprehensive medical cannabis program providing thousands of sick and suffering Utahns an opportunity to be shielded from legal punishment for utilizing a plant that may help them heal. As part of the initiative, many individuals will be able to grow and process cannabis for medical purposes; there will be no monopolies.
This monopoly is not unlike a previous cannabis bill these legislators sponsored, which would have established a monopoly for payment processing of cannabis sales (see line 836).
This bill concept is five years too late. In the absence of any other effort or legislation, this bill could be improved and potentially supported. Polls show consistent voter support for comprehensive medical cannabis reform in the mid 70 percentile, and the initiative campaign will likely have all its needed signatures by mid February.
Voters will soon have a very real chance to enact a broader program — and because competition yields better results for patients, the state should not get into the business of cannabis production itself, nor award a monopoly to others.