SALT LAKE CITY — The compromise medical marijuana bill intended to supersede Proposition 2 early next month was updated for a second time Wednesday.
The bill now permits the state to license up to seven medical marijuana pharmacies, rather than five as previously proposed in the compromise. It also increases the number of such licenses which may be granted in the event that a state-run central fill pharmacy is not operational by Jan. 1, 2021, upping that number to 10.
The bill now also removes a restriction on landlords prohibiting them from refusing to rent to a person solely because they have a medical cannabis card, or penalizing them in some other way on that basis.
The updated measure requires any patient under 21 years old to get secondary approval, beyond that of their doctor, from a state-appointed panel made up of medical professionals called the Compassionate Use Board. In Proposition 2, that board is made up of five medical providers, but the new version of the compromise expands that to seven and requires that two members be pediatricians.
The latest version of the compromise bill decreases the number of allowed state-issued cannabis growing facility licenses, from 15 to 10, though it allows for an additional five such facilities at the discretion of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.
The measure limits marijuana growing facilities to 100,000 square feet for those that are indoors, and 4 acres for those that are outdoors, though growers may apply each year to increase their size limit by up to 20 percent.
Libertas Institute, a libertarian think tank and advocacy group which worked closely with the Proposition 2 campaign and was its largest in-state donor, characterized the latest update as a measured adjustment to the original compromise.
"The latest round of edits largely incorporates feedback we received from doctors, patients, legislators, attorneys, and other advocates. They are mostly minor changes that are fairly consistent with previous modifications made to Prop. 2," said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, who played a central role in the negotiations to reach the original compromise.
Boyack said in a statement that Libertas is "especially pleased that there will be an additional two dispensaries to help alleviate patient access and a potential bottleneck that might come from having a more limited distribution system" under the compromise.
The Utah Medical Association, which has been fervently opposed to Proposition 2 and which also played a central role in negotiations over the contents of the compromise, touted the bill's latest version.
"We appreciate the opportunity we have had to work on the compromise bill and feel that it is turning into a pretty good bill between all the input that has been received from all of the different groups and agencies," said Michelle McOmber, CEO of the Utah Medical Association, in a statement.
"Again, our intent has been to put appropriate parameters around a new drug we are allowing into our state to be used for medical purposes and to make sure that drug will only be allowed for medical purposes, that the medical marijuana will be appropriately recommended, appropriately dosed, appropriately tracked and appropriately dispensed and that law enforcement will be able to track what is legal and what is not."
But some advocates on opposing sides of Proposition 2 have been unhappy with the contents of the compromise, and have vowed to turn up the pressure on state lawmakers not to accept it as is.
Among those are pro-Proposition 2 group Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, which has argued the compromise brings sweeping changes to what was passed in the ballot initiative and represents an improper usurpation of the will of Utah voters. The group on Wednesday said on its Facebook page that it was disappointed the compromise was being advanced "during the hectic holiday season while few are paying attention."
TRUCE said on its Facebook page Wednesday that "the replacement was still being written YESTERDAY — and is a bill which will thus never be really read — let alone debated — by many legislators." The group also complained that the compromise bill will not be adequately "vetted with the Utah public."
Multiple attempts to reach TRUCE on Wednesday were not successful.
Gov. Gary Herbert announced last month he would call a special session in order to get a compromise passed, after key players both for and against Proposition 2 agreed to support the text of a compromise bill drafted with the help of legislative leaders over the course of dozens of hours of negotiations.
Besides Libertas Institute, the Utah Medical Association and state legislative leaders, groups included in those discussions were the Utah Patients Coalition, which was the Proposition 2 campaign itself, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an influential opponent of Proposition 2.
Those groups agreed to de-escalate their campaign efforts prior to the election urging Utahns how to vote on Proposition 2, and Niederhauser and Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes promised to do everything in their power to get the compromise bill passed regardless of its outcome. Proposition 2 went on to pass with the support of 52.75 percent of voters.
Since the compromise bill was first announced, lawmakers have met on a handful of occasions — at times in closed caucus meetings, at other times taking public comment — to discuss making further adjustments to it.
The latest version of the compromise comes on the heels of another update to that bill which was made public on Nov. 5. Sen. President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said earlier this month the bill would undergo another update before the special legislative session that is anticipated to be held Dec. 3.
Niederhauser said Wednesday that he believes the bill "continues to be improved based upon feedback from a variety of sources."
The latest iteration of the compromise will be up for public discussion at a meeting of the Health and Human Services Interim Committee on Monday afternoon. That meeting represents "another opportunity for the public to provide input prior to the special session," Niederhauser said.
Boyack is confident the compromise bill will gain enough support among state lawmakers to pass.26 comments on this story
"We are very confident that this proposal will have widespread support in the Legislature, allowing a broad medical cannabis program get enacted an implemented quickly," he said.
Even prior to the recent changes to the text of the compromise, it already proposed significant changes to what is in Proposition 2. Still, the compromise kept some weighty parts of the initiative, including a couple which had been hotly contested by Proposition 2 opponents.
Some of the most notable proposed adjustments impact how medical marijuana could be sold, consumed, and recommended for use by doctors.