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THE GOVERNOR OF UTAH JUST SIGNED A MEDICAL MARIJUANA BILL

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By Adam Drury

On Wednesday, Gov. Gary Hubert signed a stack of bills into law. Among them was House Bill 195, which gives terminally ill individuals in the final stages of their life the freedom to use medical cannabis. Or in the terms of the bill, terminally ill patients have the “right to try” cannabis-based treatments. And that’s it. So even though the governor of Utah just signed a medical marijuana bill, it’s a bit too far to call Utah a medical cannabis state.

Representative Brad Daw (R-Orem) was the sponsor behind House Bill 195. He brought the bill to the floor of the Utah legislature with the help of Sen. Evan Vickers, a pharmacist and business owner.

HB 195 is remarkably brief in its content. It simply lays out the procedure through which a terminally ill patient can receive a cannabis-based treatment recommendation from their physician.

Officially the “Utah Right to Try Act,” the bill exempts qualifying individuals from the penalties in the Utah Controlled Substances Act.

However, HB 195 does not specify how or where patients can receive medical marijuana. Nor does it lay out any regulations for cultivating medical cannabis.

There is a companion bill to HB 195 that would permit the Utah Department of Agriculture and Good to grow marijuana. Officials expect the governor to sign that bill.

Even though the bill is a tentative first step forward toward broader reforms, medical cannabis advocates have criticized it for not going far enough.

House Bill 195, however, wasn’t the only cannabis-related bill to wind up on Gov. Hubert’s desk. In fact, the past legislative session sent five bills to the governor for approval or veto. As of Wednesday, the governor of Utah just signed a medical marijuana bill for terminally ill patients.

The other four all relate to the possibility of a legal cannabis industry in Utah. HB 302 would let private growers produce hemp for industrial purposes.

HB 197 would let the state contract private cultivators to produce research-grade, high-THC cannabis. House Bill 25 would establish a cannabinoid product review board. And HB 130 would set up a regulatory framework for businesses to sell CBD oil.

Medical marijuana proponents, however, aren’t putting their faith in the governor’s office. Rather, they’re setting their sights on a ballot initiative to more fully legalize medical cannabis.

Advocates hope to bring the referendum before voters in November 2018. The Utah Patients Coalition has gathered more than 150,000 signatures on the petition so far.

In a poll conducted earlier this year, three out of four Utahns were in support of legalizing medical marijuana. Among state Democrats, legalization enjoys 93 percent support, along with a majority of Republicans.

Gov. Hubert is not himself a proponent of legalizing medical marijuana, hence the skepticism of advocacy groups toward him on this issue. But his approval of HB 195 signals he acknowledges the broad support for legalization among his constituents and is prepared to act accordingly.

On Wednesday, Utah’s “Right To Try” bill took the first step in that direction.

Original Publication in HighTimes.