Utah lawmakers work to clarify new medical pot measure

Utah lawmakers Tuesday approved several changes and clarifications to the state’s new medical marijuana law, including making it clear that private employers do not have to accommodate medical marijuana use under the measure.

“A private company can have any kind of medical cannabis program they want,” Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “We are not enforcing anything on private enterprise. “

 

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The proposed bill, SB121, tries to make the distinction between medical cannabis use in the private and public sector, said Vickers, who sponsored the legislation. The measure, if passed, says government employees can’t be penalized for medical marijuana use unless they are impaired at work.

The changes were made to SB121 to answer lingering questions about allowing medical marijuana to be used in Utah starting March 1. Some dispensaries will open that day, making Utah one of 38 states to allow medical pot.

Voters approved a medical marijuana measure in November 2018. Utah officials have since been developing the infrastructure for legal use of medical weed.

Vickers worked with several groups in crafting the bill, which passed the committee by a unanimous vote. The measure will see several more changes over the next two weeks, he said.

“This is not a simple bill,” Vickers said. “It’s a complicated process to make sure we will have the medication available to patients when we need to. The bill itself, is still kind of a moving target.”

Other key changes in the bill include:

  • Removing a requirement that raw marijuana flower be packaged in blister packs. The bill now allows cannabis flower to be carried in glass or plastic containers. Dispensaries will still have the option of using the blister packs.
  • Increasing the limits on how many recommendations a general practitioner can offer medical cannabis from 175 to 275. Certified specialists can issue 600 recommendations over the 500 previously allowed in the bill.
  • The state’s metabolite law is being changed to not punish drivers for having an inactive metabolite from legal use weeks before they are tested.

The changes also call for the creation of a state-wide data base that lists the names of legal cannabis users. Supporters say this will reduce the chances a legal user will be arrested during a road side test for illegal substances.

Desiree Hennessy, executive director of Utah Patients Coalition, said the changes improve the new law. More work is likely as Utah hurdles toward the March 1 opening of dispensaries.

“We will still be making adjustments up to the last minute, so anything can happen even after March 1,” Hennessy said. “It’s going to be a wild two weeks.”