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Blister packs removed and patient expungements possible in new Utah medical cannabis bill

Posted at 5:50 PM, Jan 16, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill set to be introduced in the Utah State Legislature will make a number of changes to the state's medical cannabis program, including removing special packaging requirements and allowing qualifying patients to seek to have prior marijuana convictions expunged.

"We’re trying to move forward and streamline the process for implementation," Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said in a recent interview with FOX 13.

The bill will remove "blister packs" which were a special container required of any flower or bud given to qualifying medical cannabis patients. Medical cannabis advocates have long argued they were like nothing any other state had, nor were they effective. So now, the bill will allow the product to be in childproof jars and containers that are opaque and the cannabis size is regulated.

Sen. Vickers said the bill will also address when police and prosecutors could go after someone with metabolite from prior marijuana use in their system.

"With cannabis, you can have metabolite in your system for a long time, but it may not be active," he said. "But there is methods to be able to determine whether the metabolite is active or not. Of course, if you’re impaired, you’re impaired."

The bill will also address ways for medical cannabis patients to expunge their criminal records for prior marijuana convictions, said Connor Boyack, the president of the Libertas Institute, who has been involved in negotiations over the legislation.

"We're changing dosing parameters to dosing guidelines," Boyack said. "Doctors will not be able to specify amounts. They’ll get guardrails."

The legislation will also address how employers can handle medical cannabis patients who use THC, as well as those who use CBD (which the state legalized two years ago). While the legislature has intended for medical cannabis to be treated the same as any other controlled substance when it comes to employment, it's not always happening.

Desiree Hennessy, the director of the Utah Patients Coalition, which sponsored Proposition 2 and negotiated the bill the legislature overrode it with, said patients are playing "employer roulette."

"The law is now saying, 'Yeah you can use medical cannabis and you’re no longer a criminal,' and then you go to work and they say, 'Yeah, but if you do it you’re fired,'" she said.

She was supportive of the changes to the law.

Still to be determined is an issue of patient caps, which limit how many people a physician can recommend cannabis to. FOX 13 reported last year on a number of patients who have struggled to get a recommendation to try medical cannabis as a treatment option.

"We are discussing what’s the most efficient way to put a reasonable cap on physician," Sen. Vickers told FOX 13.

The state is working to have a medical cannabis program up and running by March. The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has licensed growers and the Utah Department of Health has handed out dispensary licenses. But Sen. Vickers said it's possible it won't be fully up and running by then.

"Full-blown distribution? Probably not," he said. "But we are going to have some distribution and patients will be able to receive medication."