Kelly Wilkey (left) of Spring City, volunteer with the Local Utah Patients Coalition, helps Jason Gibbens of Manti add his signature to petition to put the Utah Medical Cannabis Act on the ballot in Utah.

Medical marijuana advocates gathering local petition signatures for 2018 ballot measure

 

By Robert Stevens

Managing editor

Sept. 14, 2017

 

Signatures are being gathered in Sanpete County and around the state to put a medical marijuana reform act on ballot a year from now.

In August, state election officials gave the green light for medical marijuana advocates to begin gathering the 113,143 signatures required by Jan. 1, 2018 to get a medical marijuana legalization measure on the 2018 election ballot.

The proposed measure is called the “Utah Medical Cannabis Act” (cannabis and whole-plant marijuana are the same thing). The petition drive and associated law are backed by an organization called the Utah Patients Coalition.

Their campaign is supported by several other organizations, including TRUCE (a Utah patients group), Libertas Institute (a Utah think tank), and the Marijuana Policy Project (the nation’s leading marijuana policy reform organization).

Kelly Cruz Wilkey of Spring City is a CPR instructor, mother of three and one of the local volunteers gathering signatures. She says signature gathering in Sanpete is going well but admits some people are hesitant to sign the petition for various reasons.

“People are sometimes uncomfortable with the idea at first,” Wilkey says. “Usually it is due to misconceptions or not being aware of facts concerning the proposed law. This is not legalization of recreational use. This law does not allow anyone to walk into a dispensary and purchase whatever amount they like. Only patients with a prescription and under constant doctor oversight will be able to benefit from the use.

“Once I can show someone the law, they can read it for themselves, most people have come around and have an attitude of ‘Oh, of course, that’s reasonable.’”

Wilkey says some people want to sign the petition but are worried about others finding out.

“Because of this, I use a sheet of paper to cover previous signatures while others sign,” Wilkey says. “People are definitely concerned about their professional reputation, and I don’t blame them.”

Wilkey says she volunteered with the Utah Patients Coalition for two reasons. The first: Civic duty, she says.

“I value the rights we have as citizens in this country but understand these rights require citizens to step up and be responsible, active participants in the process,” she says. “When they announced the ballot initiative was given the go ahead, I thought it was wonderful that Utahns, not politicians and lobbyists, will decide their future.”

But Wilkey admits her support for Utah Patients Coalition is also personal.

“I know too many people who suffer and hide in the shadows who treat their diseases and ailments with cannabis,” she says. “They are in constant fear of criminal consequences. They are patients, not criminals.”

The full language of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act can be read at utahpatients.org, but the summary of the proposed law on the same website states that its purpose is to “protect terminally and seriously ill patients with debilitating medical conditions from arrest and prosecution if using medical cannabis pursuant to their doctor’s recommendation.”

The Utah Department of Licensing would be the governing body over the medical cannabis act if it passes.

According to the ballot initiative language, people with a doctor’s prescription could obtain as much a maximum of 2 ounces of cannabis plant or 10 grams of concentrated cannibinoids from a licensed dispensary during any 14-day period.

If a patient does not live within a 100-mile radius of a dispensary, after Jan. 1, 2021, they would be permitted to have up to six personal plants growing in a locked, enclosed space not within 600 feet of a school, park, playground, church or library, and not within 300 feet of an area zoned as residential.

There are a few elements of the act that may have some marijuana proponents balking though. One is that smoking marijuana would still be illegal, as would any kind of public consumption. Patients would have to use vaporization, marijuana edibles, and oral or topical plant extracts.

The other point of possible contention is that a patient’s doctor would not be allowed to prescribe cannabis unless the patient’s diagnosis was on a predetermined list of “qualifying conditions.”

If someone seeks treatment with marijuana for a condition that is not on the list, the act states the person must visit a board of five doctors, known as the “Compassionate Use Board,” which would decide if it is in the patient’s best interest to treat his or her condition with medical marijuana.

Wilkey says these restrictions are an important part of making sure the measure receives support.

“Utah does not want to become a pothead paradise,” she says. “Authors of the act “have made it explicitly clear—this is medicine and will be controlled as medicine.”

The language of the proposed measure takes into account how the business of providing cannabis would be regulated, Wilkey says.

The act provides for four types of medical cannabis business licenses: cannabis cultivation facilities, cannabis processing facilities, independent cannabis testing labs and cannabis dispensaries (which are where patients would go to fill their prescriptions).

Each form of cannabis business has its own set of restrictions; for example, not more than one cannabis dispensary may be licensed for every 150,000 residents in a county.

Wilkey says cannabis business license applicants must abide by strict rules concerning business location, such as not being within 600 feet of a school, park, playground, church or library, and not within 300 feet of an area zoned as residential.

They are also required to provide a security and sanitation plan, and if someone has a felony record, he or she cannot have a part in ownership or be employed by a cannabis business.

Under the proposed law, the number of cannabis licenses to be awarded at first will be very limited, Wilkey says.

“No one really knows what to expect for it because it’s never been done in the state of Utah,” she says. “They are starting slow and steady so that it’s manageable.”

The act also requires a cannabis inventory tracking system and a system for quality and contaminant testing to be put in place.

The Utah Medical Cannabis Act is very clear on one thing—medical cannabis is to be exempt from sales tax. Funds to offset the expense of establishing and maintaining the program would come from cannabis business licensing fees.

Another no-no in the act is advertising medical marijuana. In select circumstances, a green cross, a widely recognized symbol of medical marijuana, can be displayed on a website.

Sanpete Democratic Party Chairwoman Serenity Kimball, who says she has never even been in the presence of marijuana, is one of the petition signers. She says the act is a “no-brainer.”

“I think the act has been written in a way that a lot of people in Utah can agree on it,” Kimball says. “I think most people already do. Even as someone who doesn’t need or use marijuana, I can see that we should be passing this for people who need treatment.

“There are so many drugs that are currently prescribed by doctors with much worse side-effects. If we can get this passed, we can start gathering data, and adjust in the future, if needed. It won’t make everyone happy, but it is a good start.”

Medical marijuana in Utah has been down a long road with many bumps along the way.

In 2014, Charlee’s law passed through the Legislature with near unanimous support, which made it legal for patients to possess and use low doses of THC extract when directed by a doctor.

In 2015, and again in 2016, the Legislature considered the Medical Cannabis Act, sponsored by former Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, which would have legalized medical cannabis, if recommended by a physician, for nine specifically listed medical conditions including epilepsy, cancer, AIDS chronic pain, PTSD and a few others. The bill passed the Senate but was defeated in the House.

Despite the slow progress of reform, Wilkey remains positive. “There are patients hiding in the shadows in fear of criminal prosecution. Utah has a prescription abuse epidemic. All things should be considered in tackling this problem that affects us all.”

If you want to sign the petition or have questions, contact Wilkey at 851-9664 or kcruzwilkey90@gmail.com.