With Utah’s first medical marijuana dispensary set to open its doors, state lawmakers scrambled to approve adjustments to the cannabis law.
State house representatives greenlit a bill Thursday that had received senate approval only a few days prior, with the aim of getting the legislation on Republican Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk by week’s end. According to Deseret News, Herbert is expected to give the bill his signature on Friday—just before the state’s first dispensary begins operations.
The Deseret News reported that the bill allows “the state to conduct initial product testing to give the private sector time to gauge supply and demand, the bill raises patient caps for doctors, clarifies that private employers don’t need to allow marijuana use and requires the raw marijuana flower to be packaged in sealed containers with a 60-day expiration date, among other provisions.”
MMJ’s Slow Progress in Utah
Voters in Utah approved a referendum legalizing medical marijuana in 2018, making it the 33rd state to do so.
But the lead-up to the program’s March launch has been marked by delays and controversies. After voters approved the measure 53 percent to 47 percent, Utah legislators immediately began work on a compromise bill to overwrite the proposal approved at the ballot. The bill passed and was signed into law during a special session in December 2018, dramatically limiting the scope of the measure approved by a majority of voters only a month earlier.
Marijuana advocates challenged the bill in court, but the lawsuit was thrown out by the Utah Supreme Court in August. Justice Paige Petersen, writing for the court’s majority, ruled that while the state’s constitution “creates and protects the voters’ right to place legislation on the ballot for approval or rejection by the people, it also carves out an exception to that right.”
The state’s first dispensary is slated to open Monday in Salt Lake City. State officials said last month that they would award dispensary licenses to 10 different companies at 14 separate sites throughout Utah.
Marc Babitz, deputy director with the Utah Department of Health, told a group of state lawmakers last month that only one or two dispensaries are slated to open in the first week of March, and that even then it will likely be difficult for patients to get a cannabis prescription.