A legislative effort to possibly circumvent the medical cannabis citizen's initiative is dead.
UtahPolicy.com first reported on a possible move to head off the initiative by using the same tactics that lawmakers considered with the Count My Vote initiative in 2014. That led to the SB54 compromise with the legislature.
Backers say they simply don't have enough time before the end of the session. They were hoping to craft a "middle ground" bill between Rep. Brad Daw's proposals, which they say were too restrictive, and the Utah Patients Coalition ballot initiative, which they claim creates a "regulatory nightmare" for the state.
Jeremy Roberts, who has been working with several lawmakers to craft a proposal, tells UtahPolicy.com that the proposed initiative if it passes, would put up several regulatory hurdles that would have the net effect of increasing costs for patients.
"They wrote this burdensome thing that's going to make cannabis more expensive," he said.
Roberts points to a provision requiring the state to develop an electronic system that can interface with a dispensary's inventory control system to track in real time cannabis products. That system must be up and running by March 1, 2020.
"That's less than two years after the initiative passes," he says. "Other states have taken much longer than that to develop their tracking systems, and they cost millions of dollars. Who's going to pay for that? It's the patients."
Not so, says DJ Schanz with the Utah Patients Coalition, which authored the medical cannabis initiative. He says that there's no reason for the state not to meet that March 2020 deadline.
"There are systems we could cater to our specific needs," says Schanz. "We're not breaking new ground on these systems, or processes here. Other states already have these in place."
Schanz also says Roberts' cost estimates are way out of whack. The fiscal impact statement for their initiative estimates it would cost the state about $2.9 million to implement the program the first year after the initiative passes. There are ongoing costs of $1.8 million per year, but fees paid to the state would cover about $1.4 million of that.
Rep. Daw, R-Orem, proposed two bills dealing with medical cannabis. One would allow terminally ill patients the "right to try" medical cannabis, while the other would allow the state to set up a cultivation system for marijuana and dispensaries. Critics of Daw's approach say it's nothing more than a half-measure that doesn't go far enough to address the needs of patients.
Roberts says many lawmakers don't feel a sense of urgency about the citizen initiative. They either think the measure won't pass in November, even though polls show an overwhelming number of Utahns support legalizing medical cannabis, or they think they'll be able to come back during the 2019 session to fix any problems if it does pass.
Daw's "right to try" bill passed the House on Friday. However, his growing and dispensary legislation is on life support after failing in the House last week. Daw was able to bring the bill back for reconsideration on Monday, but its prognosis for survival is not clear.
"My biggest fear is if the referendum fails in November, lawmakers will come back and think they don't have to do anything," says Roberts. "They should have come up with a good medical cannabis bill, but they failed to do that."
Schanz says any worries that the initiative may have unintended consequences are unfounded because legislators can simply make any fixes that are needed when they return to the hill following the 2018 election.