Summit County Councilor Glenn Wright will openly discuss his support for the legalization of medical marijuana in Utah. He voted for Proposition 2 and was disappointed when the Legislature replaced the ballot initiative with a state-controlled alternative known as the Utah Medical Cannabis Act.
“There are lots of models to go off of where this was approved in other states, and we are going off of a completely different and untested direction that seems to put more controls on it that will actually decrease the effectiveness of the process,” he said.
The alternative, which became law in December, gives the state more control over the industry and requires the Utah Department of Health to oversee the dispensing of marijuana to qualified patients. Advocates of the state’s alternative say it regulates the industry better than Proposition 2 and treats medical cannabis more like a medicine that requires a doctor’s approval.
Wright’s comments came after he attended a panel discussion put on by TRUCE (Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education) on Tuesday in Park City. He said he wanted to learn more about the state’s measure and the efforts to overturn it. More than 65 people attended the event, including County Attorney Margaret Olson and Aaron Newman, Summit County’s mental health and substance abuse coordinator.
Panelists Christine Stenquist, executive director and founder of TRUCE, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, Park City physician Dr. Andrew Talbott, and Rocky Anderson, an attorney and former mayor of Salt Lake City, spent more than an hour discussing how the Utah Medical Cannabis Act or H.B. 3001 will affect patients, the medical community and law enforcement. Former state Sen. Stephen Urquhart moderated the event.
“H.B. 3001 was born in fear and bound to fail,” Stenquist said.
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Anderson filed a lawsuit in the 3rd District Court of Salt Lake County on Dec. 5 challenging the state’s alternative. It calls for the reinstatement of Prop 2 and names Gov. Gary Herbert and Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, as defendants.
“This is potentially the greatest people’s movement since statehood,” he said. “(Lawmakers) have to show when they mess with the people’s initiative that there is a compelling state interest to interfere with what the people have done, and any such interference has to be as narrowly tailored as possible. There is no way that H.B. 3001 meets that standard.”
Anderson said H.B. 3001 is the only law in the country that requires the health department and its employees to violate federal law. Marijuana is illegal under federal law and is classified as a Schedule 1 substance.
“This bill requires state actors to affirmatively violate federal law, which is amazing when you think about it,” he said. “The Legislature has required a state department, through the eyes of federal law, to become a drug cartel to oversee the growing, distribution and transportation of what is currently a Schedule 1 drug. It is a blatant violation.”
The state’s measure allows elected officials in each county and municipality to come up with their own methodology for addressing the law enforcement impacts of the law. Gill said he is going to try to err on the side of patients. He added, “These are patients not criminals.”
“This has been a long journey for the patients,” he said. “When it comes to medical access, it is something we, as prosecutors, have no role to play and should be playing no role at all. The problem with H.B. 3001 is it is putting more criminal acts on the patients. They are continuing to be criminalized because they want access. We are seeing a lot of problems.”
The new obstacles that have been created through the state’s alternative will not stop the flow of marijuana into the state, Gill said. He added, “It is already here and people are using it recreationally.”
“It’s not going to leave,” he said. “The issue was and always has been about access to medical cannabis in a legal way for patients.”
Marc Taylor, who traveled from Ephraim to attend the event, said the discussion gave him hope and energy to keep moving forward. Taylor helped gather voter’s signatures to get Proposition 2 on the ballot.
“I want to be supportive and I want to see Prop 2 happen,” he said.
Jeane Kruse Baron, of Midway, said she attended because the “will of the voters is being subverted.” Baron voted for Proposition 2.
“I think that we have an experienced group of people in the TRUCE organization that will be able to provide guidance to the rest of us that are not as well informed about the ins and outs,” she said.
Wright anticipates a series of discussions among the County Council and officials at the Summit County Health Department, county attorney’s office and Sheriff’s Office. He said enforcement is something that will have to be addressed.
“As a county we will have to sit down with Margaret (Olson) and with (Sheriff) Justin (Martinez) to come to an agreement about how the law will be enforced in Summit County,” he said. “I think the law that was passed by the Legislature has created a situation that is worse than if they had just left Prop 2 alone. They feel like they have to be in control of everything and they have made the situation worse for most patients.”