SALT LAKE CITY -- Frustrated by what the Utah State Legislature may do to Proposition 2 next week, medical cannabis advocates warn that patients may go to Nevada to find relief.
"I expect people will say, 'Screw this, we’re going to Wendover,'" said Christine Stenquist, the founder of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, a medical marijuana advocacy group. "I also expect people to continue buying on the illegal market. Especially when the bill passes, they’re going to feel very confident they should be using this."
Voters approved Prop. 2 in the election earlier this month. But the legislature is preparing to vote on a "compromise" bill that would swap it out. House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, negotiated with Prop. 2's sponsors, the Utah Patients Coalition and the Libertas Institute, as well as opponents including the Utah Medical Association and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The bill, which would swap out the ballot initiative, removes some of the more objectionable parts of Prop. 2, including "grow your own" and creates a state-run dispensary model. Supporters of the bill argue it preserves public safety and protects children, while also ensuring Utah has a medical cannabis program to provide relief to patients.
On Monday, lawmakers held a five-and-a-half-hour long hearing where public comment was largely opposed to replacing Prop. 2. Among their complaints: the state-run system might be too difficult for patients to access, physicians are the only ones who can recommend cannabis and voters approved Prop. 2.
"Desperate patients will go to Wendover to get what they need because their legislative body refuses to listen to them," Stenquist told FOX 13.
West Wendover's City Council voted last week to allow recreational marijuana sales. A dispensary will open in summer 2019.
But it is a crime to bring drugs across the border. West Wendover city leaders said that when recreational sales launch, they will remind visitors from Utah that carrying drugs across the border is illegal.
"I just want to remind folks that transporting marijuana across state lines is a federal offense," West Wendover Mayor Daniel Corona said. "I do hope that for the sake of the patients, the lawmakers in Utah will work compassionately and diligently to find a solution that allows patients to get their medicine without feeling like they need to go to such extremes in order to get relief."
The Utah Highway Patrol has told FOX 13 it does not plan any crackdown on the Utah-Nevada border, but will look for signs of impairment along I-80. On Dec. 1, when Prop. 2 goes into effect, legitimate medical cannabis patients in Utah will be entitled to an "affirmative defense" if they are caught with a personal quantity of marijuana.
That defense will also be in the bill being considered by the legislature, which will vote on it in a special session set for Dec. 3. Speaker Hughes testified on Monday he anticipated the state would beat statutory deadlines for a medical cannabis program, which took effect in 2020.
Asked about the potential for patients to make the 90 minute drive from the Wasatch Front to West Wendover, Speaker Hughes said he did not have concerns.
"I welcome the states that have sought to go the recreational route to keep going. We have been focused on patients and patient care. We’ve never really wanted that blended in with those who want recreational, anyway," he told FOX 13.
The Speaker said medical cannabis patients in Utah would get access and benefit from the state-run system under the bill being considered.
"I don’t have any worry about what other states do on the recreational side," he said. "They can do that. We have been focused on patients and patient access."