Some Utahns plagued by intense chronic pain may rejoice at the prospect of using legal medicinal marijuana in the Beehive State, but all of Utah should be pleased the state has crafted what Gov. Gary Herbert properly called “the best-designed medical cannabis program in the country.”
The Utah Medical Cannabis Act, which passed easily through the Utah Legislature on Monday and acquired the governor’s signature the same evening, tightens the loose wording of Proposition 2 and adds several safeguards left out of the ballot initiative. It’s a compassionate and balanced approach to helping those who stand to benefit from marijuana’s properties while ensuring the plant doesn’t become a runaway recreational drug.
It also is a supreme example of what can happen when disparate voices come together to solve a common issue.
We welcomed the October announcement that coalitions for and against the proposition had reached a new arrangement designed to replace the ballot initiative. It’s hard to look at those key players — ranging from the Proposition 2 campaign itself, the Libertas Institute, the Utah Medical Association and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this paper — and not sense the depth of support for the new deal.
Nevertheless, critics will continue their claims that the Legislature overturned the will of the people, and some parties already have served notice they intend to sue. That may be expected after a long, contentious campaign. It’s also hard to fault anyone dealing with chronic pain for backing what was a grass-roots attempt to bring them some respite. But even well-intentioned policy can have fatal flaws, and we congratulate the various coalitions for recognizing the trouble areas and agreeing to support a safer, sounder bill.
Among the changes are a more appropriate designation of who qualifies for a medical cannabis card, fewer pharmacies with greater supervision and consistency in how technicians dispense authorized forms of the plant, and removal of the rules allowing people to grow their own marijuana under certain circumstances.
Most notably, however, the compromise sends a signal to the country that compassion is wholly compatible with sensible laws and oversight, a message sorely needed today as national lawmakers now grapple with immigration and criminal justice reform, and as states tackle an array of issues in the so-called culture war.
Utah already has showcased its ability to reject either-or proposals and carve a middle path on immigration, religious freedom and LGBT rights. Adding medical cannabis to that list should give other legislatures pause to reconsider how they balance competing interests and find solutions by bringing opposite parties to the negotiating table.