At his monthly news conference at KUED Channel 7 on Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert pledged that lawmakers will work together to craft legislation on medical cannabis, regardless of whether Utahns vote in favor of Proposition 2 come November.
“If it doesn’t pass, we’ll start new. We’ll create in this upcoming legislative session a bill that everybody can support,” Herbert said. “If it does pass, then we’re going to bring the legislature together, and we’ll work with the stakeholders who have already acknowledged this bill is not perfect, it does need some improvement. And we’ll make improvement with the legislative help, so we get a good law.”
Proposition 2 would legalize medical cannabis for people suffering from certain chronic and serious illnesses, like Crohn’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. Card-holding patients would be able to acquire a certain amount of cannabis from dispensaries over a two-week time frame, unless, after Jan. 1, 2021, there is no dispensary within a 100-mile radius of a patient’s home. In that case, they’d be able to grow up to six cannabis plants, provided they’re for medical use.
Herbert has publicly stated he is against the ballot initiative, but he supports the concept of sick individuals accessing medical cannabis. At this month’s news conference, he reiterated that ballot initiatives are a poor way to make laws, and that he worried Prop 2’s unintended consequences could harm public health and lead to recreational marijuana use. He’ll be voting against it on Nov. 6.
“One way or the other, we’re going to get a law on the books that makes some sense for the people of Utah,” Herbert said.
State legislators have long debated legalizing medical cannabis in Utah, but progress has been incremental. Last session, legislators passed a bill that granted terminally ill patients the “right to try” medical cannabis if they have six months left to live. But Herbert said Prop 2 has changed the political winds and motivated lawmakers to get something done. “That’s what’s been the catalyst to get people to talk about this in, I think, more rational and open ways,” he said.
Herbert also expressed annoyance at the federal government for not making it easier to conduct research on the plant, despite that medical cannabis is legal in 30 states and Washington, D.C. “I’m frustrated because Congress has sat on their hindquarters and not gotten anything done on this issue,” Herbert said before blaming the Obama administration for not taking a more active role.
“We’ve wasted 10 or 15 years by doing nothing. It’s time to say, ‘No more.’ Let’s have Congress act. Let’s get the research done” Herbert said. “In the meantime, we need to have a bridge, to kind of take care of the gap.”