The proposal would also force existing pharmacy operators to put their licenses into operation or to give up.
Utah may get a 15th medical cannabis dispensary as lawmakers seek to add options for patients who don’t live along the Interstate 15 corridor.
A lengthy proposal by Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers on Thursday would create an additional license for a pharmacy in rural Utah with the aim of serving patients who have now been long-time cannabis purchases.
“If you look at the licenses we issued … they are all oriented north-south on I-15,” Vickers, R-Cedar City, told the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. “On the west side of the state, it’s a bit closer, so we have some coverage. We don’t do that on the east side of the state and in some of the more rural areas there. “
The Vickers bill, passed unanimously by the committee, would also put pressure on existing pharmacy operators to open the doors of their facilities. Only seven of the state’s 14 licensed marijuana dispensaries have opened in the year since legal cannabis sales began in Utah, and its legislation would require these retailers to be open by June 1 or their license could expire .
In addition, SB192 would limit the number of licenses the state can issue to independent cannabis testing laboratories to four. It would set up a supervisory board for cannabis breeders to task that board with reviewing cultivation license applications and holding a public hearing whenever a marijuana farm moves to a new location, changes hands, or undergoes other major changes.
That provision, Vickers says, addresses some of the issues raised in a recent state audit that revealed concerns about the way the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has issued the current eight cultivation licenses. The bill would allow the state’s Compassionate Use Board – which takes into account cannabis applications for minors and patients who do not meet state qualification requirements – issue a cannabis card for a period shorter than the usual six months.
Industry officials said they valued aspects of the bill but had reservations about other provisions.
“We only received a copy of this bill late last week because the industry was not involved in the bill,” said Greta Brandt of the Utah Cannabis Association, a trade group that represents growers and retailers. “We are still working on the invoice language. We have concerns about the current draft language and its impact on operators in their operations. “
With only 45 seconds to testify during the hearing, her time ended before she could address her concerns.
Chris Jeffery, CEO of WholesomeCo, which runs one of the cannabis dispensaries in Utah, noted after the hearing that his company has begun providing home delivery services specifically for patients living in remote parts of the state.
“We all agree that our top priority is making medical cannabis available to every patient in need in a convenient and affordable way,” he said in a prepared statement. “This is especially true for those who live in rural areas and are unable to reach a pharmacy.”
Utah officials, he said, chose “skilled operators from the start, and we are proof of that.”
Jeffery added that WholesomeCo’s delivery services are available to almost all patients across the state outside of Davis County, and hopes lawmakers understand this option is available.
Vickers’ bill, now being sent to the entire Senate for consideration, is the latest round of changes to the medical cannabis program that was originally approved by voters in Utah at the ballot box in 2018. Just weeks after it was passed, lawmakers replaced the electoral initiative with a negotiated cannabis plan they made themselves – and which they have since tweaked.
Vickers said these adjustments are to be expected as the state builds a brand new industry, and advised his colleagues to expect a lot more cannabis bills in the years to come.
“We sometimes joke about the way we call [the cannabis law] the Christmas tree because it gets bigger every day, ”remarked Senator Luz Escamilla during the hearing on Thursday.
Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored their own cannabis legislation at that session. Among other things, their SB170 bill would give doctors the freedom to refer up to 15 patients for cannabis cards, even if the doctor doesn’t want to enroll as a qualified medical provider.
Proponents hope that change will help patients struggling to find medical providers willing or able to enroll them in the cannabis program. Your legislation has been passed by the Senate and is being examined in-house.