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Medical cannabis program tweaked ahead of launch date

State lawmakers are advancing a medical cannabis bill that would tweak a state program prior to the March 1 launch date. (AP Photo/Morgan Smith, File)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The state’s medical cannabis program may be tweaked following the unanimous advancement of a Utah Senate bill.

The Health and Human Services Committee is passing S.B. 121, which they say provides a few fixes. The goal is to make the changes prior to March 1, when the state program is set to launch.

Deadline approaching

Lawmakers insist that cannabis products will be available the first week of March, but first a few changes are needed.

If passed, the bill will no longer require that marijuana flower be put in blister packs. Now they will be in containers with a 60-day “use by” date.

Physicians will not get recommendations, but rather dosing guidelines.

Additionally, private employers have the right to not allow medical cannabis use, while government employers do not.

Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, is sponsoring the bill. He remains opposed to recreational marijuana, but is trying to achieve a “balance” in the state’s cannabis program.

He also isn’t looking to add any more qualifying illnesses to the program at this time.

First medical cannabis program

Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, says state lawmakers are venturing into unknown territory.

“We are navigating a minefield here,” he explains.

While everyone assembled today agreed the changes are necessary, it may not be the last adjustment to the program.

“You can’t anticipate that whatever we land on today may not need some additional tweaking,” said Sandall. “This session, or next session, or a session after that.”

As lawmakers continue to race to get things ready ahead of the March 1 deadline, it appears to be taking a toll on some.

“This is not an easy process. Anybody that has not been in a process like this does not realize how much time, unpaid hours, volunteer hours go into making this work,” he said.

The Utah Department of Health is planning to launch some sort of program by the end of the month. The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food already has grow sites in place.