Improvements in the Medical Cannabis “Compromise”

In the wake of Prop 2’s passage—a result we are thrilled about and have worked for years to achieve—there’s a lot of confusion about why the Legislature is considering a so-called “compromise.”

First, many people seem to believe that the ballot initiative is untouchable—that the Legislature has to leave it alone. Not so. Utah law allows legislators to amend or even repeal a ballot initiative; there’s nothing to protect it.

So, knowing that legislative leadership strongly disliked Prop 2, along with the Governor, law enforcement, the LDS Church, the Utah Medical Association, etc., we entered into negotiations and came up with an agreement that resolves the chief concerns while keeping a broad, functional patient program in place—and earning the endorsement of nearly all of Prop 2’s opposition.

And while we don’t love how everything ended up, this path secures a stable long term future for patients, rather than gambling their fate on the political uncertainties of hostile battle for years to come.

Critics are quick to suggest that this new proposal is substantially worse for patients than Prop 2. And yet, Americans for Safe Access—a national medical cannabis advocacy organization—scored both legal proposals and found that the agreement was only 4% worse on their scoring index compared to Prop 2. That’s hardly the drastic difference some are suggesting.

But it gets even more interesting. Upon review of ASA’s analysis of the proposal, it became quickly evident that they misunderstood what was actually in the new draft. Several key areas of their scoring metric were incorrect. For example, they penalized the proposal for allowing access to raw flower only “after a patient has failed to respond to two other medical cannabis forms.” But that’s not at all in the proposal. Other similar errors exist.

When these errors are corrected, the new proposal is only a 1% reduction on ASA’s index—even less of a drastic difference. And, in our view, a 1% tradeoff is worth it if it brings the blessing of the entire opposition and helps remove regulatory roadblocks that might prevent implementation from moving forward without complication and intrigue.

What should we call this proposal? Some have called it a “replacement bill” while most are calling it a compromise.

But is it a compromise?

This word implies taking Prop 2 and watering it down somewhere in the middle. And while several key aspects do result in less than what Prop 2 had—take the number of dispensaries, for example—this cannot be said of the entire proposal.

So here are ten ways in which the proposed agreement, being considered by legislators in a special session on December 3, is actually an improvement on Prop 2.

  • Under Prop 2, patients have an affirmative defense—a legal protection to use cannabis medicinally—until July 1, 2020, when the card system is required to be operational. Yet dispensaries aren’t required to be open until January 1, 2021—that’s when the “grow your own” provision kicks in. This means there are seven months when patients are not protected.

    This oversight in our drafting leaves patients in an awkward position, because if dispensaries aren’t open until, say, December, then that’s several months when they lose legal protections. The new agreement fixes this by extending the affirmative defense until January 1, 2021.
  • Many firearms owners are rightly concerned about the federal enforcement of laws governing the acquisition of firearms by those using a Schedule I substance. Prop 2 was silent on this matter.

    The new agreement includes language that prohibits state and local law enforcement officers from enforcing a law that restricts a person’s “right to acquire, own, or possess a firearm” based on the person’s use of medical cannabis. So, while the feds can enforce their own laws (which they’re unlikely to do), Utah officers are now handcuffed—restrained from helping in any way.
  • Medical users are rightly concerned about how their employer might treat their legal use of cannabis. Prop 2 is silent on this issue as well.

    Utah is an “at will” work state. In other words, a person can generally be fired for any reason at any time; employees are not entitled to the jobs they have been offered by their employers.

    However, the government is different—and certainly can restrain itself on this matter. So, the agreement contains language that prevents state and local governments from firing, suspending, or taking adverse employment actions against an individual because of their use of medical cannabis. Police officers, bureaucrats, firefighters, librarians—these and more will be protected in their legal use of medical cannabis.
  • Prop 2’s qualifying condition list included chronic pain, so long as the doctor determined the patient to be at risk of becoming chemically dependent on, or overdosing on, an opiate. The individual would also qualify if they were allergic to, or unable to medically use, opiates.

    Chronic pain is improved in the agreement by eliminating opioids entirely from the equation. Pain lasting longer than two weeks now qualifies if a non-opioid did not resolve the pain; patients are no longer required to have any interaction with or consideration for opioids.

    Additionally, two qualifying conditions were added: a terminal illness with less than six months of life expectancy (which was approved in a bill earlier this year that Prop 2 would have repealed), and any condition that results in the person receiving hospice care.
  • While we disagreed with this contention, critics of Prop 2 claimed that the ballot initiative would override the retail CBD law that was passed by the Legislature earlier this year.

    Though the proposal repeals the Legislature’s earlier medical cannabis programs—now that a broader one is in place—it explicitly leaves in place the retail CBD law, allowing CBD-only products to be sold over the counter.
  • Prop 2 contains provisions protecting parents from adverse actions against them and their minor children by the Division of Child and Family Services.

    The proposal expands on this by creating similar protections for parents and caretakers of “vulnerable adults”—the legal definition of an adult-age individual with mental or physical impairment. Now, parents or guardians of such persons can legally use medical cannabis without fear of adverse legal action for doing so.
  • Prop 2 prohibits individuals from being a caregiver (purchasing and transporting cannabis to a patient) if they have committed a felony in the past seven years.

    The proposal reduces this to two years, and narrows it only to crimes (both felony and misdemeanor) pertaining to drug distribution.
  • Prop 2 had a “grow your own” trigger should the bureaucracy have dragged its feet and not allowed dispensaries to operate by January of 2021. While this provision was never intended to actually become utilized, it was put in place as an insurance policy for patients.

    The proposal changes this trigger to instead be medical decriminalization; after that date, prosecutors cannot even file charges against medical cannabis patients. And while some patients are upset they will have lost the ability to cultivate their own plants, the new provision (should it ever be triggered) would likely be utilized by far more patients, most of whom have no clue how or desire to grow cannabis plants.
  • Two lawsuits have been filed against Prop 2. In the most recent iteration, Walter Plumb has sued based on a provision that protects patients from being evicted by their landlord for being a medical cannabis patient. Claiming religious infringement among other things, Plumb has used this provision to try and frustrate the entire ballot initiative.

    The proposal has a severability clause, effectively a legal declaration to ensure that if any provision is held unconstitutional by a court of law (for example, the landlord provision), then the rest of the proposal remains effective without the invalidated provision.
  • While liability protections were given to physicians under Prop 2 for recommending treatment with medical cannabis, there was uncertainty by some physicians that the protections would extend to the affirmative defense phase of the law, prior to having a system set up in which recommendations could be officially and legally made.

    The proposal explicitly extends the liability protection to the affirmative defense phase, ensuring that doctors who recommend the use of medical cannabis to their patients will not be held civilly or criminally liable for that recommendation merely because cannabis is a federally illegal Schedule I substance.

Like any law—especially a major one creating a brand new program with many moving, interoperable parts—Prop 2 is subject to amendment, and likely to be refined over time.

While we have serious concerns about several aspects of the proposed agreement, we feel on the whole it creates a workable program that can get patients what they need while resolving the concerns of critics. These aspects listed above are among the ways in which improvements are being made. More will no doubt follow in the future.

  • Powsniffer0110

    Nice write-up. Thanks

  • helix400

    Thanks for compromising/updating/implementing/whatever it’s called now. Compromise is such a dirty word, and too many people today would rather draw lines in the sand and lose, rather than compromise and win. Besides, this compromise contains a lot of really useful tweaks that were missing in Prop 2.

    One question. Prop 2 seemed to have broad verbiage protecting employees of any kind using medical marijuana. The latest draft was changed in two places (in the summary and in the legislative details) to only cover local government employees. But this analysis says “Medical users are rightly concerned about how their employer might treat their legal use of cannabis. Prop 2 is silent on this issue as well.”

    I was under the impression Prop 2 was not silent about this issue, the initial version simply covered all employees. Am I missing something?

  • zeppo.shemp

    So, now states can bypass the FDA? Does this concept also apply to other substances, or only cannabis?

    • Corey Ellis

      States set the tone for the fed government. Why do you think no one is going after 32 other states that have legalized in some way.

    • glubbekut

      It has been reported that the DEA was part of the writting the compromise….so obviosly the Federal Government isnt too concerned about medical use

  • Corey Ellis

    I like that we’re trying to protect people. That is what I want. The state ran part of this is not needed. I want all 40ish despencerys to be private. Not state ran.

    • Mr Phillip

      The “church” meaning the mormon church, not catholics, not Christian/Protestant, not Jews, not even sikhs attempted to enforce their will on the people of Utah. Prop 2 had no provision for protections for employees. Bad. Utah added only protections for State and Local government employees. STILL bad because it provides a provision only for representatives of the Local govt. hierarchy. (Does that include State Legislators??) I don’t have a clue.

      The new replacement law removes any intake of cannabis in plant form altogether, if I read the language correctly, I hope I am mistaken.

      As for requiring state dispensaries, all this would do is provide the State of Utah a lever to create ludicrously high taxes on any medical cannabis item. It would also leave licensing and regulation of dispensaries, if any, in the hands of the Utah State Legislature, a wholly owned subsidiary of the church of jesus christ of latter day saints.

  • Cole Chancer

    Has there been any changes/compromises to the list of qualifying illnesses/conditions? More specifically, is PTSD still on the list?

    • glubbekut

      PTSD must be DIAGNOSED by a PSYCHIRATRIST. If you are a VET and have PTSD rating – even 100% SC PTSD – with the VA, but a psychologists provided the evidence for the rating….YOU do not qualify for medical use.

      Some compromise

    • glubbekut

      Only if diagnosed by a pyschiatrist.

      If you are a Vet that suffers from PTSD and have a SC rating for it, you dont qualify if your SC rating was from a pyschologist.

      • laura cabanilla

        Perhaps the compromise legislation should be rewritten to allow for a Veteran who has a disability rating for PTSD.

      • Cole Chancer

        Are you required to be a Vet? Some people have had childhood abuse so severe they suffer from PTSD in their adult lives.

        • glubbekut

          Not required to be a Vet. The PTSD diagnosis MUST be froma psychiratrist.

          Though Vets with PTSD can be diagnosed by a psychologist in accordance with Dept. Vet. Affairs policies.

  • glubbekut

    @Connor Boyack “Utah is an “at will” work state. In other words, a person can generally be fired for any reason at any time; employees are not entitled to the jobs they have been offered by their employers”

    Connor please explain the various non-discrimination laws that apply to employers that are not the State or local poltical sudivision; and I am confident you know that the State absolutely can require non-discrimination.

    Allowing discrimination against renters and employees is pathetic

  • Thunder Alexander

    How is it that I can take suboxone and marinol now. But when this comes into law I have to pick one or the other. Cannabis is basically the same as marinol and I take them both for different reasons. Why cant I take the marinol out and have cannabis and my suboxone. This is going to make it harder for patients to access cannabis. Conner u did a terrible job at defending the patients. I take both of these medications for different reasons. I should be able to have both. Now I have to fight to get what I need.

  • Thunder Alexander

    All we need is 36 states to legalize it and then the feds will look at it and legalize it. And I think were at 30 states right.

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  • Brandon Heller

    Thanks for all the work you have done on my behalf. I, for one, am very grateful. I have chronic pain and other conditions related to living with it for 30 years+. That’s an old picture of me on the left, 22 years old now. Part of the reason I leave it up is that I’m sitting in it. Standing is very painful, and gets worse each year. I don’t and won’t take opiates, (but I did for 4 years, in the 1980s). I have depression and anxiety too. I’ve tried Cannabis many times now, for up to a couple of months at a time now and know that it helps my pain and lets me sleep, and I have a brighter mood and less anxiety the next day as well. Thank you so so much for standing up for my rights. I doubt there’d be anything on the horizon at all at this point if not for the hard work that you’ve done. I’m quite sure that Christ is a libertarian and you people have done Christ’s work here. Thanks.

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