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Legalized medical medicinal marijuana in a dispensary
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Proposition 2 has passed. When will medical marijuana become legal in Utah?

A medical marijuana dispensary in Canton, Ill. Legalized medical marijuana will soon be available in Utah. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

It’s official: legalized medical marijuana is coming to Utah.

53 percent of Utahns voted “yes” on Proposition 2, by the count made when the polls closed last night; enough that most news outlets have called the vote and said medical marijuana is going to be legalized.

But that doesn’t mean that anyone feeling a little under the weather can start smoking marijuana on the streets. It could be years until Proposition 2 actually takes effect and, by then, a lot may change.

When does Proposition 2 take effect?

Legalized medical marijuana supporters celebrate

Proposition 2 supporters celebrate the initial results, shortly after 8 p.m. at the Infinity Event Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Kristin Murphy, KSL)

Proposition 2 will become law on Dec. 1, 2018, but that doesn’t exactly mean that medical marijuana will become legal that soon.

The proposition only allows medical marijuana to be sold at approved places and to approved people. Until Utah sets up its first medical marijuana cards and dispensaries, those approved people and places won’t exist, and so it will still be illegal to possess or purchase marijuana.

By Jan. 1, 2019, Utah is required to open one facility that sells medical marijuana, but that facility has nothing to do with Proposition 2. It is being opened to fulfill an older law, which only allows them to sell marijuana to research institutions and terminally ill patients with less than six months to live.

The state has until March 1, 2020, to get the medical marijuana cards ready. Until then, the rest of Utah’s patients are not allowed to possess marijuana.

Once they’re ready, those medical marijuana cards will be available to approved patients with certain qualifying conditions, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis. Card-holders will be allowed to buy, during a 14-day period, either 2 ounces of unprocessed marijuana or a marijuana product with no more than 10 grams of THC or cannabidiol.

The state has until Jan. 1, 2020, before they have to start offering medical marijuana licenses to facilities and dispensaries. Between then and Jan. 1, 2022, the state plans on opening 15 cannabis cultivation facilities.

If Proposition 2 is still unchanged by Jan. 1, 2021, anyone with a medical marijuana card living more than 100 miles from a dispensary will be legally allowed growing up to six plants for personal use in their own home.

What about the compromise bill?

Gov. Gary Herbert announces the compromise bill.

Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during a press conference about an agreement between several opponents and supporters of Proposition 2, Utah’s medical marijuana initiative, at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Those are the dates under Proposition 2 but a lot of that could change before any of it takes effect.

On Oct. 4, 2018, supporters and opponents of Proposition 2 got together to draft a compromise bill that would introduce legalized medical marijuana to Utah, but under different terms. And they’ve been tweaking and reworking that bill ever since, even making changes to it on the day before the election.

Odds are, that bill is going to replace Proposition 2. Gov. Gary Herbert has promised that, if Proposition 2 passes, he will hold a special session on Dec. 3rd to try to pass that compromise bill.

If it passes, the timeline for legalized medical marijuana in Utah won’t change, but we could see some tweaks to the law.

Under Proposition 2, patients would be allowed consuming marijuana as edibles, but those would be banned under the compromise bill. The new bill, likewise, will only allow patients to get unprocessed marijuana if it is broken up into 1 gram blister packs, while homegrown marijuana plants will be banned altogether.

The safe bet is that the compromise bill will make up the actual laws of the land. And, according to Sen. Todd Weiler, that bill may still see more changes before it becomes law.

“I think that a compromise bill will pass,” Weiler told KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic. He emphasized, however, the word “a”, explaining that it won’t necessarily be the same bill we’ve seen.

But any changes still to come, Weiler says, won’t ignore how the people of Utah cast their votes.

“Is the will of the people to have medical marijuana, or is it to have every word in Prop 2?” Weiler says. “That’s the debate now.”

Will anything change on Dec. 1?

It will be a long time before legalized medical marijuana becomes available in Utah, but that doesn’t mean that nothing will change on Dec. 1st.

Until the first cards become available, patients with a qualifying condition and the recommendation of a doctor will be legally protected if they buy marijuana out-of-state.

“When we drafted Prop. 2, we were very emphatic that it would have what is called an ‘affirmative defense’,” Connor Boyack, one of the people who drafted the proposition, told KSL Newsradio. “Patients are going to be able to have a legal protection to use their medical cannabis they use out-of-state as long their doctor thinks they can benefit from it [and] they have one of the matching conditions.”

Boyack clarified, however, that this doesn’t mean that medical marijuana will become legal on Dec. 1st. Instead, it just means that patients will have a legal defense ready if they do get charged.

“You can still get arrested,” he explained. “The affirmative defense is a protection in court, and so if you are in fact prosecuted, a patient can say: ‘Look, here’s my doctor’s note, I have a qualifying condition, now you gotta let me off the hook.'”

Boyack hopes that, now that the proposition has passed, most police officers won’t waste their time arresting medical patients taking marijuana.

Until the first dispensaries and cards rollout, though, Utah will not have legalized medical marijuana.