A new bill seeks to modify Utah’s medical cannabis law, but the legislature may not hear it

Posted at 5:52 PM, Feb 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-09 21:40:11-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill being introduced in the Utah State Legislature seeks to modify a landmark bill that replaced voter-approved Proposition 2, the medical cannabis ballot initiative.

Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, told FOX 13 she intends to introduce a bill that would tweak the types of product qualifying medical cannabis patients can use, as well as raise the patient caps for physicians who wish to recommend it.

"My constituents believe... that Prop. 2 was a good law and they don’t necessarily think HB3001 was a bad law, but they recognize it can be better," she said.

Since the controversial HB3001 was signed into law, Rep. Dailey-Provost said patients have reported having problems. Right now, qualifying patients can use medical cannabis (however they obtain it) if it is in a legally allowable form. That helps them try to avoid prosecution if they're busted for marijuana possession.

"The dosing and packaging for the products are very, very specific and we’re finding patients are having a hard time finding the products they need that meet those requirements," she said.

Advocates for medical cannabis also complain that physicians will hit their caps on how many patients they can recommend medical cannabis to.

"We’ve got a smaller number of doctors that will be able to write the letters and we see this influx of patients that are overwhelming them," said Doug Rice, the president of the Epilepsy Association of Utah.

Utah's two largest healthcare systems, Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health Care, have told their physicians not to recommend cannabis until they can figure out the new law. That's created problems for patients who want to use the newly legal medicine and now have to find a doctor who will make a recommendation, who will quickly fill up on how many patients he or she can take.

"If you don’t want doctor shopping to happen? That’s what’s happening," said Christine Stenquist, the founder of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education. "You’re forcing it to happen when you only have one physician that’s willing and then you’re bumping up to those limits."

TRUCE, the Epilepsy Association of Utah and other groups have been trying to persuade Intermountain Healthcare and U of U Health Care to lift the barriers.

Rep. Dailey-Provost said her bill would help fix some of these problems. Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, has introduced a bill that would add autoimmune disorders to the list of qualifying conditions to get medical cannabis.

However, House and Senate Republican leaders have said they are not considering any medical cannabis legislation this year.

"If there’s technical corrections, and there’s a few of those, we’ll take care of those. But any kind of a major policy shift we’re asking we wait until next year," Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, told FOX 13 on Friday.

HB3001 was crafted after weeks of negotiations between legislative leadership, the Utah Patients Association and Libertas Institute (which sponsored Prop. 2) and opponents including the Utah Medical Association and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sen. Vickers said the preference was to wait, see what happens as the state implements the medical cannabis program and then address issues.

"Next year could be crazy. It could be a Wild West circus with everybody proposing different things," he said.

Rep. Dailey-Provost acknowledged she faced an uphill battle in the legislature, but said she wanted to encourage a discussion on the new medical cannabis law.

TRUCE and the Epilepsy Association of Utah, who are suing over the Prop. 2 replacement bill, said the current law is not addressing problems that patients are experiencing. Their lawsuit is still pending in the courts.

"We’re going to be adding some plaintiffs both medical professionals and patients," Rice said.

Stenquist said she knows of two people who have already died waiting to get full access to cannabis.

"We need more from them," she said of the legislature. "It’s great they want to take it off? We can’t."