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Lawmakers say medical cannabis should be treated like any other prescription drug in Utah

Posted at 5:00 PM, Nov 17, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Legally speaking, medical cannabis is supposed to be treated like any other prescription controlled substance in Utah.

Voters called for it when they passed Proposition 2, and the Utah State Legislature made that official policy in a series of bills that have regulated medical cannabis.

So several conservative lawmakers were visibly irate to disover on Wednesday that some local governments have been refusing to recognize medical cannabis as a legal controlled substance — especially when it comes to government employees.

"The original intention of the legislature has always been that you not punish someone for being sick or using medicine properly, as prescribed," said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City.

It is an issue that the Utah Patients Coalition, which advocates for medical cannabis patients, has been battling for some time. The issue finally came to a head in Wednesday's hearing of the Utah State Legislature's Government Operations Interim Committee.

"We are seeing a small group of cities that are disallowing their employees to still use medical cannabis even after it’s been recommended by their doctor and they went through the proper legal channels," Utah Patients Coalition Executive Director Desiree Hennessy said in an interview with FOX 13.

The problem has been particularly pronounced for first responders. Police officers and firefighters have obtained medical cannabis cards, but then find themselves in trouble with their own city.

"Just the presence of having a medical cannabis card is enough for them to get removed from duty," Hennessy said.

The committee gave its support to a bill that would double-down on the state's policy that medical cannabis be treated like any other controlled substance. Government employees obviously cannot use medical cannabis on the job or be impaired, but they also could not face punishment for being a legal user.

"It’s almost like common sense would tell you if it’s legal to use medical marijuana then it would be legal to have a card that says you can use marijuana. Then you wouldn’t have to fear retribution from any employer, let alone a state subdivision employer," said Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding.

The bill will only apply to government workers. However, Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, who has overseen Utah's medical cannabis legislation for the Senate Republican majority, said the intention has always been to encourage private employers adopt the same approach with their employee.

"I would like to see private industry, if they have policies regarding controlled substances, then they follow that same law with cannabis," Sen. Vickers told FOX 13.

But like vaccine mandates, Republican legislative leaders have been reluctant to dictate to private businesses what they can and cannot do. Hennessy said she would like to see more private employers adopt cannabis-friendly policies.

"The pendulum swings both ways, right? There is a hurdle there," she said. "The only thing we can foresee that would fix the private employees issue is education and the experience of having employees use medical cannabis."