A new set of medical cannabis laws were just signed into law in Utah. The development is the latest in what has become a protracted battle over medical marijuana in the state.

Most notably, the new medical marijuana laws do away with a prior plan to institute a centralized, state-run distribution system that many advocates said would become hugely problematic. Now, Utah will implement a much broader framework for distributing medical cannabis to patients.

Governor Signs New Laws

The new laws will immediately go into effect, as Governor Gary Herbert has officially signed off on them. The set of marijuana-related amendments signed by the governor are the outcome of a special legislative session held last week.

Changes to the state’s distribution system are among the most significant amendments. In the version of Utah’s medical marijuana program that immediately preceded these amendments, patients would only be able to get medicine through a “central fill” system.

This distribution system essentially required state government employees to distribute medical marijuana. After receiving significant pushback from many in the state, lawmakers revised this provision.

Now that the new amendments have been signed into law, Utah will do away with its state-run dispensing model. In its place, the state will allow for privately-owned and operated medical cannabis dispensaries.

Importantly, the new amendments double the number of cannabis pharmacy licenses the state will give out. Additionally, the new amendments allow for home delivery. Specifically, the home delivery provision is designed to service patients in rural locations.

Replacing a Broken System

Prior to these new amendments, Utah’s central fill system was very controversial. Specifically, it came under fire both for how it was passed into law and for how it would operate.

In 2018, Utah voters approved medical marijuana. But almost immediately, state lawmakers—acting largely at the behest of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—held a special legislative session in which they quickly replaced the voter-approved medical marijuana program with a dramatically different program. And central fill was one of the key differences.

At least two medical marijuana advocacy groups filed lawsuits. In general, the suits attacked the state for undermining a voter-approved initiative.

Additionally, the suits also raised problems with central fill itself, arguing that the system would essentially require state employees to break federal law. And this, they said, could severely hamper the effectiveness of the central fill distribution system, thereby making medicine extremely inaccessible.

The critiques leveled against central fill seemed to come true a short time later. In June of this year, attorneys general in at least two counties advised against participating in the central fill system. The attorneys said that if there were ever a federal crackdown, state employees could not be protected by the Utah state government.

Ultimately, lawmakers decided to reverse central fill. And now that a new, dispensary-oriented system has been signed into law authorities hope to be on track to scale up the state’s medical marijuana program. Specifically, lawmakers are aiming to get medical marijuana treatments and products on the market no later than March 2020.

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