Utah’s Grand Bargain on Medical Marijuana: Will It Work?

This article originally appeared on Leafy. Read it in its entirety here

On the morning of Oct. 4, a number of Utah politicians, religious leaders, medical patients, and representatives from the Libertas Institute, a libertarian think tank, gathered before a packed audience in the Utah State Capitol’s ornate gold room. The group had gathered to announce a deal: In the coming months, they said, state lawmakers would introduce a bill to legalize medical cannabis—regardless of whether state voters pass the medical marijuana bill, Proposition 2, on November’s ballot.

Though Proposition 2 would create one of the country’s more restrictive medical marijuana, it’s drawn scorn—and organized opposition—from the state’s political establishment, which is dominated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The church’s pushback made a big dent in what polls suggested was a comfortable lead for legalization, but a thin majority of Utahns still back the measure.

No matter how it works out, Utah’s compromise is the latest evidence of how quickly confidence in medical marijuana’s value has reached some of America’s most conservative communities. The question now is whether it can succeed or whether, as some critics worry, the compromise was designed to fail from the start.

While details will be debated by the Legislature, the compromise’s proposed bill would allow a total of five privately operated dispensaries in the state and one publicly controlled one. (Prop. 2, by contrast, would allow one dispensary per 150,000 residents, or about eight dispensaries in Salt Lake City alone.) It would also ban home growing—which is allowed under Prop. 2—and add a raft of other restrictions. Utah dispensaries would be known as “medical cannabis pharmacies.”

No doubt the compromise was easier to reach because virtually everyone agrees Utah is nowhere close to legalizing for recreational use. “This campaign was never about notching up another election victory,” Marijuana Policy Project deputy director Matthew Schweich said in a statement. “Our goal was simply to help medical cannabis patients in Utah who are being treated like criminals as they seek to alleviate their suffering.”

At the Oct. 4 press conference, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who opposes Prop. 2, seemed to agree. All the assembled stakeholders shared a common interest, he said, in alleviating pain and suffering. They also want to ensure that only individuals with a pressing medical need can access cannabis in Utah. This is more or less the Mormon church’s official view: It’s increasingly OK with doctor-approved medical use, but it still frowns on recreational use.

This article originally appeared on Leafy. Read it in its entirety here

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