Utah’s governor to call special session on ‘compromise’ medical marijuana, despite public vote on Prop. 2

SALT LAKE CITY -- Governor Gary Herbert announced he will call the Utah State Legislature into special session to pass a "compromise" bill on medical marijuana.

Supporters and opponents of Proposition 2 stood side-by-side to endorse the bill, which will be run through the legislature regardless of how the public votes on the citizen referendum.

Gov. Gary Herbert speaks at a news conference announcing the compromise medical marijuana bill. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

"Under this plan, marijuana will be distributed to patients by well-trained, physicians and pharmacists who are qualified to do that very thing," Gov. Herbert said Thursday.

The bill was the product of weeks of closed-door talks between groups ranging from the Utah Medical Association and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (who oppose Prop. 2) to the libertarian-leaning think tank Libertas Institute and Utah Patients Coalition, Prop. 2's sponsor.

"There’s common ground in terms of making sure patients in need have, at least on the state side, a legal way to access medical marijuana while protecting against recreational use and not undermining public safety," House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told FOX 13.

The 126 page bill was filed in the Utah State Legislature that creates a doctor-recommended medical cannabis program. Patients who fall under the list of qualifying conditions can apply for a marijuana card that the Utah Dept. of Health would sign off on. Marijuana "prescriptions" would be obtained through state-run dispensaries or local health departments.

See a diagram of how the proposed law would work:

A diagram of the dispensary for the compromise medical marijuana bill. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Federal law does not allow pharmacies to dispense cannabis, but these would be the state's own version of a dispensary. Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, complained that marijuana dispensaries in other states didn't look "very professional"

"Under the system we’ll have stringent controls to prevent misuse and particularly to prevent diversion of the product into the black market for recreational use," Gov. Herbert said.

Here's the qualifying conditions and how the cannabis program would work:

A chart released by the Utah State Legislature showing how the compromise medical marijuana program would work. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Cannabis cultivators would be licensed by the state and there would be independent testing on the product with an inventory control system.

"It does not allow marijuana laced cookies, brownies and edibles that appeal to children," said Michelle McOmber of the Utah Medical Association. "It involves a system where medical marijuana can be dosed by licensed physicians and dispensed by licensed pharmacists or public health departments."

Prop. 2 was polling to pass, but the initiative's sponsors feared that the Utah State Legislature was gearing up to tamper with it.

"As we looked to what’s going to be the long term, access for patients, not just a short term win in November. Obviously we’ve had concerns the legislature would completely gut Proposition 2," said DJ Schanz of the Utah Patients Coalition. "In fact there’s many bill files open to modify and gut Prop 2 when it passes."

This bill would ward off those efforts to destroy the citizen initiative by the legislature and force them to pass a bill backed by some of Utah's most politically powerful.

"In order to look out for the long term interests of patients, this was the best thing. While we are still in a position of strength to negotiate what we feel are important pieces of Prop 2," said Schanz.

Some patient advocates felt good about it.

"This isn’t going to go away. People aren’t going to leave it alone. The topic’s not going to die and they’re going to take a lot of heat if they don’t deal with it now," said Todd Moon, whose epileptic son could benefit from medical cannabis.

People line up to pick up yard signs at a kickoff party in support of Utah's Proposition 2. (Photo courtesy Connor Boyack, Libertas Institute)

Christine Stenquist of the patient advocacy group Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) has been critical of the closed-door talks. She noted the distrust of the legislature, who ignored the issue for years until it became a citizen-led ballot initiative.

She told FOX 13 she was "cautiously optimistic, but skeptical" of the bill.

"A special session with a lame-duck legislature is still something to which we are opposed. We still see Prop 2 as the best insurance policy for good medical cannabis law in Utah. But if what we’re hearing is true and genuine, it is worth listening to," she said in a text message.

"TRUCE will be reviewing the bill language and releasing a statement when we have had time to do so. We will always put patients before politics."

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, blasted the Thursday news event as "voter suppression." She said it undermined a very public vote on an issue people felt strongly about. Still, she said voting would hold the legislature accountable to promises made.

"People need to make sure they vote and they’re part of this political process," she said.

With the bill being unveiled, Speaker Hughes promised a public vetting with public input. Some signaled they would still urge a public vote on Prop. 2, despite the legislature's intent.

"That’s how you hold your elected officials’ feet to the fire," Rep. Hughes said.

The LDS Church announced it would start drawing down on its campaign against Prop. 2, while Utah Patients Coalition said it would stop its plans for ads to vote for the initiative.

Elder Jack Gerard of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Seventy, speaks at a news conference on the marijuana compromise bill. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The LDS Church recently faced protests and criticism for its participation in the closed door talks (faiths are allowed to weigh in on issues without fear of losing their tax-exempt status, just not candidates themselves). Elder Jack Gerard, a member of the Church's Quorum of the Seventy, told FOX 13 they were seeking a compromise.

"We’re just one voice in the chorus. We want to be a constructive voice," he said. "I believe we have. In fact, I believe our participation in some small way has helped to facilitate this community solution we’ve arrived at today."

Watch the news conference here:

Read the draft bill here: