SALT LAKE CITY — Although unofficial results show Utah voters have passed Proposition 2, the fight for what the future of medical marijuana looks like in the state is far from over.
As attention turns to a special legislative session, some advocates both for and against medical marijuana legalization who were not happy with the compromise bill drafted to effectively replace Proposition 2 are hoping to persuade lawmakers to consider significant adjustments to that agreement.
That is despite the consensus and assurances of key pro and anti-Proposition 2 groups that the compromise they crafted strikes the right balance.
In early October, when the compromise was publicly announced, Gov. Gary Herbert said he intended to call a special lawmaking session to pass a compromise bill irrespective of whether Proposition 2 passed.
The initiative campaign, called the Utah Patients Coalition, along with the Utah Medical Association and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who opposed the measure, promised at that time to support the compromise regardless of the Election Day outcome, and de-escalated their campaigning efforts and advertising purchases.
But neither Walter Plumb, the president of political issues committee Drug Safe Utah which had raised money in an effort defeat Proposition 2, nor Christine Stenquist, founder of pro-Proposition 2 Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, were enamored by the contents in the announced compromise.
Plumb, who argues the compromise bill itself is too permissive and represents a misleading first step toward recreational marijuana use in Utah, said he will be getting in legislators' ears that they "have got to stand up" and protect against youth access to marijuana under the compromise.
"We're not going to go away," he said. "We're going to do everything possible to protect our youth."
Plumb believes any legalized youth access to whole flower marijuana is "totally ridiculous," including a requirement in the compromise that it must be broken up into small 1 gram segments in a blister pack for qualifying patients.
"I just want to make sure this compromise has (adequate) protections for young people, and not only adolescents, but actually children, so we don't end up with this huge social experiment screwing up our kids," he said.
Stenquist has argued the compromise was crafted without the input of patients who could benefit from marijuana, and unnecessarily restricts their access by decreasing the number of facilities that can sell marijuana as compared to the initiative. She told the Deseret News her organization plans to "bring a little more thunder to the game" in its attempts to change that.
She said with election season in the rear view mirror, she hopes advocates and legislators alike will "put our pitch forks and torches aside" and instead "have a conversation" about what policies to include in the compromise.
"We're not fighting for territory anymore. We're trying to find what a real compromise looks like and sounds like," Stenquist said.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, told the Deseret News the special session will be held in either "the last few days of November or first few days of December."
Sometime shortly before that, the Legislature will hold one additional public hearing to hear from those interested in weighing in on the compromise, Niederhauser said. That is in addition to hearings hosted by Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, as well as House Democrats, prior to Election Day.
"We want to be really close to a final draft before we do that," Niederhauser said.
Asked whether the public hearing could affect a compromise bill that is so close to a final draft, Niederhauser said yes, "Although I think (by now) we've heard about all the arguments."
Any new drafts would be in addition to an updated version of the compromise, which was published on the Utah Legislature website Monday.
Among other changes, the updated compromise expands which medical professionals' diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder can qualify a patient for a medical cannabis card, lengthens the amount of time a person's second issued medical cannabis card remains valid, and says police officers may not enforce any law restricting a person's right to own a gun solely based on their legal possession or use of marijuana.
The new version of the compromise also narrows the definition under which employers cannot "take an adverse employment action against" a worker or decline to hire someone based on their lawful use of marijuana, as it now would apply only to public employers rather than any business.
Under the updated compromise, a minor could still legally use medical cannabis if diagnosed with a qualifying condition, but would need that diagnosis be confirmed by a second medical opinion.
Niederhauser characterized the various changes as "pretty minor."
"We're really not changing a lot of the concepts," he said.
DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition, has also said he believes the changes made in the latest draft were not game-changing.48 comments on this story
Hughes said Tuesday that "these changes we put out (had) the same theme and the same broad-based support" of the compromise as initially released, "but I think it's a better product now with the feedback that we received" from the public hearings.
Stenquist said in her focus on what was an important Election Day for her organization, she had not yet had a chance to review the updated compromise. She plans to review it soon, she said, but first, at the end of a grueling legalization push, "I'm going to take a full 24 hours and rest."
Contributing: Andrew Adams