In anticipation of the March 1 rollout of the state’s medical cannabis program, Sen. Evan Vickers is sponsoring last-minute changes to the law. Senate Bill 121 would make several amendments to the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, which the legislature approved in December 2018, shortly after Utah voters approved a medical cannabis program through the Proposition 2 ballot initiative.
Among the many changes, medical cannabis could be packaged in glass bottles, not just blister packs; physicians could recommend medical cannabis to an increased number of patients; and people with qualifying illnesses, such as epilepsy or cancer, could have prior cannabis-possession convictions expunged from their records.
District 19 Sen. Allen Christensen worried the tweaks eased up on cannabis regulations, creating a slippery slope to recreational usage.
“What I see is 150 pages of loosening all the regulations that we put in place," Christensen said. "Allow vaping in certain circumstances; there's no dosing; there's greater availability; the out-of-state products can be purchased; less doctor regulation.”
Vickers disagreed with Christensen’s characterization of the bill.
“You and I have had this talk," Vickers said. "You know how strongly I'm opposed to recreational marijuana or cannabis in the state, so I would never do anything—in my mind—that would lead toward any kind of stepping stone toward recreation.”
Nathan Kizerian is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the state over undoing Proposition 2. Kizerian says his wife, who died from cancer, used cannabis illegally for more than two years to ease her symptoms. He spoke against a provision in the bill that requires an expiration date for cannabis products—60 days after a container of cannabis bud is purchased, any unused product becomes illegal.
“This 60 day thing, I could call it immoral—I'm gonna call it pure evil," Kizerian said. "Why do we want to put terminally ill people in handcuffs?”
Vickers, a pharmacist, has spearheaded numerous amendments to the state’s medical cannabis law. The Cedar City Republican says it’s a difficult issue, and he didn’t want to be involved.
“When I walk away from the legislature, I certainly don't want to have medical cannabis as my thing," Vickers said. "My legacy, stamped across my forehead. I hope it's something else.”
Per Utah law, the state’s medical cannabis program must be operational by March 1. The program includes issuing medical cannabis cards to qualifying patients, registering physicians who want to recommend medical cannabis to patients and licensing medical cannabis pharmacies.