Utah has decided to abandon plans for a state-run medical cannabis network and increase the number of private dispensaries instead.
The state legalized medical marijuana last year after 53% of voters approved Proposition 2 during a midterm election in November. It allowed patients to obtain medical marijuana cards if suffering from conditions such as chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis.
However, lawmakers decided to replace the ballot initiative with a compromised version of the law that Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law in December 2018. It reduced the number of permitted dispensaries from 40 to just seven, and ensured that the state health department would run the program.
That sparked widespread condemnation and a lawsuit has been prepared against Herbert on behalf of patients groups. They accused the government of ignoring the will of the people and undermining the central purpose of the initiative.
The protests have seemingly hit home and Sen. Evan Vickers, the Senate Majority Leader, announced that it would launch a new bill in a special session of the legislature. The purpose is to remove central dispensary, take the local health departments out of the distribution process and hand the reins the private retailers.
That is a lot closer to the original measure that voters approved last year. The Epilepsy Association of Utah, which is suing the state over its failure to implement Proposition 2, said the decision to abandon the state-run distribution system is a small step in the right direction.
The special session will be held this fall after Herbert said he wants to ensure that no deadlines are missed in delivering medical cannabis to patients that qualify for it. The distribution deadline is March 2020, and Herbert is still confident of hitting it despite overhauling the distribution process.
The number of private dispensaries across the state will now increase from seven to 12, although it has not confirmed where they will be located.
The Department of Agriculture was able to hand out 10 cultivation licenses, but it only issued eight in order to prevent a potential oversupply. Eighty-one businesses applied, and some of those that missed out have appealed the decision, arguing they were passed over in favor of less experienced operators.