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Utah Lawmakers Pass Bill To Protect Medical Cannabis Patients

Utah lawmakers approved SB46, a bill that protects the rights and dignity of cannabis patients working for government agencies. The bill SB46 would require the state and local governments to treat prescriptions for medical cannabis the same way as other controlled substances. 

This legislation protects medical cannabis patients from being discriminated against in the areas of health and employment. Republican Rep. Joel Ferry, the House floor sponsor of the bill, said that the law is designed to protect patients legally using cannabis under Utah’s Medical Cannabis Act, which was passed by voters in 2018.

“What this bill does is it provides some clarity to what the legislative intent was… in recognizing medical cannabis as a legitimate use of cannabis for treating certain ailments such as chronic pain,” said Ferry, as quoted by the Deseret News.

After passing the Utah Senate by 26-1 last month, the Utah House of Representatives approved the legislation on Wednesday. Now, the bill will be sent to Republican Governor. Spencer Cox is expected to approve final passage.

Medical Cannabis Patient Who’s a Firefighter Was Suspended

The legislation was drafted by Utah lawmakers after an Ogden firefighter, Levi Coleman, was dismissed without pay last September for refusing surrender to his medical cannabis card. Levi Coleman, the Ogden firefighter filed suit against the city, alleging that they violated the Medical Cannabis Act.

Nearly unanimous support was given to the legislation by both chambers of Utah’s legislature. The bill was opposed by Timothy Hawkes, a Republican Representative. Hawkes said he feared the bill would give a “get out of jail free card” to people who use “street marijuana” recreationally.

Some lawmakers were skeptical that public employees could work in high-ranking positions under the new bill. Private employers are not affected by the legislation.

Ferry explained Wednesday to his House colleagues that the law does not prohibit public agencies from disciplining workers who are impaired or intoxicated while working. 

“We already have extensive provisions for… people where medical cannabis interferes with their ability to do their job, that’s all in the law,” agreed Republican Rep. Norm Thurston. “All this says is, the simple, additional act of seeking a card is not going to subject you to being fired from your job.”

Kera Birkeland is also Republican and said that she values those who care about public workers working with medical cannabis.

“But if we wanted to go down every controlled substance that we have and talk about abuse, every profession, and everybody would be at times possibly abusing,” Birkeland said, adding, “I mean, I’ll be honest, sometimes I take two muscle relaxers when I’m only supposed to take one, right?”

“We don’t come down on that,” she continued. “I think we need to let people work through this issue with their physicians and support and provide education and training on how to not abuse substances, instead of just saying, ‘You might abuse this and so we’re not going to let you have this drug and have this profession.’”

Others pointed out that the bill is contrary to federal law which continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I controlled drug. But Republican Rep. Ken Ivory said the bill is a matter of states’ rights under the U.S. Constitution and that Utah is protecting its citizens’ interests despite the position of the federal government.

“The founders and the framers looked to the states to look at policy, to look at things that make sense for their people,” Ivory said.

“States are separate and independent sovereigns, and sometimes they need to act like it,” Ivory added, quoting U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.