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Utah lawmakers put up stop sign on medical marijuana bills after Prop. 2 compromise

FILE - In this May 14, 2013, file photo, medical marijuana prescription vials are filled at a medical marijuana dispensary in the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles.
FILE - In this May 14, 2013, file photo, medical marijuana prescription vials are filled at a medical marijuana dispensary in the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles.
Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Republican legislative leaders don't intend to consider any major changes this year to the medical marijuana compromise lawmakers passed last month to replace a voter-approved ballot initiative.

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said this week that there is "general consensus" that the Legislature "take a breather" on marijuana bills, though he allowed there could be some "tweaking" of the new law.

In a December special session, the GOP-controlled Legislature overwhelmingly approved a bill to replace Proposition 2 with a more restrictive law for medical marijuana use in Utah.

The compromise grew out of talks among Utah House and Senate leaders, the Utah Patients Coalition and Libertas Institute, both of which backed Proposition 2, and the Utah Medical Association and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, both of which opposed the initiative.

Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, which did not participate in the compromise talks, and the Epilepsy Association of Utah have sued the state over the law.

Democrats opposed the compromise legislation, but had not filed any bills to restore Proposition 2 as the Legislature started its 45-day session Monday.

In fact, only one bill has been introduced so far.

Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, is proposing in HB106to add autoimmune disorders to the list of conditions that qualify for medical cannabis use. Those conditions were included in Proposition 2 but were removed in the compromise legislation.

Connor Boyack, Libertas Institute president, said the previous legislative leadership — former Speaker Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, who are longer in the Legislature — agreed to hold all marijuana bills in 2019.

"We're taking the session off," Boyack said.

But Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said the Senate has not made that decision. "But what we do look at will be fairly minor in detail," he said.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, agreed lawmakers could consider some "technical corrections" this year because of the size of the bill — it's 6,151 lines long — but nothing beyond that.

"I subscribe to the notion that we met in December, that a lot of parties agreed to the place that we landed, and I think in general we should let that policy stand and see how well it works over the next couple years," he said.

Judkins' bill probably doesn't fall into the category of a tweak or technical change to the law.

"It’s a little controversial," she said. "I don't know where it will go."

Judkins said she's running the bill because she heard from people in her House district — which largely opposed Proposition 2 — who were "pretty upset" that conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis would not be covered.

She said she doesn't know if the House Rules Committee — the legislative gatekeeper — will assign the measure to a standing committee for a hearing.

"I understand why it wouldn't because you don't want to open another Pandora's box of changes when this is a brand-new thing," Judkins said, adding she respects the process that created the law. "But on the other hand, I feel like most of the voters in Utah did vote for Prop. 2 with the expectation that these conditions would be covered."

Judkins said she has not talked to House leadership about the bill. She does not have a Senate sponsor at this point.

Libertas would "absolutely" support Judkins' bill should it move forward, Boyack said.

The Utah Medical Association hasn't taken a position yet but would probably oppose it, said spokesman Mark Fotheringham.

"It's just a minor change there, but it has big implications," he said. "The addition of autoimmune disorder is a fairly generic term, and I suspect that they'll say, 'No, they have to be more specific than that,' because that includes diabetes, it includes vasculitis, it includes a whole lot of things that marijuana has no place being in."

Fotheringham said the association hopes the Legislature sticks to the compromise and that opening it up again goes against the spirit and intent of the agreement.