Senate Bill 73 FAQ

What happened to SB73?  Why didn’t it get passed?

The State Senate debated SB73 for more than four hours total on two separate days.  It was amended seven times and two substitute bills were offered.  It passed the second reading with a vote of 15-13.  The third and final substitute was adopted and was passed out of the State Senate by a 17-12 vote after being amended to alleviate the concerns of many critical stakeholders. When the bill arrived at the House Health and Human Services Committee (HHSC) on March 7th, it experienced significant opposition from members of the committee. There were another seven amendments offered to it, none of which passed. Ultimately it was defeated by a 8-4 vote. Within the HHSC there was a general consensus that this bill was just not ready to be read on the House floor.

Why was access to cannabis flower removed from SB73?  

One of the strongest objections to SB73 was that dispensaries could sell whole, unprocessed medical cannabis flower.  Senator Madsen amended the bill to allow dispensaries to sell only cannabis product, but not any unprocessed flower.  This amendment along with others, generated enough support to pass the bill out of the Senate, but not enough to make it out of the HHSC to the floor of the House. 

What forms of cannabis would have been available in SB73?  Was smoking allowed?

There were very few restrictions on the type of cannabis products that could be sold prior to amendments adopted on the Senate floor. Products had to be in childproof containers, could not look like candy or be in any form that would attract children, and could not be sold in a product that resembled a cigarette. It could, however, be sold as a product that could be vaporized.

A dispensary could not dispense more than 10 grams of cannabinoids by weight to a patient or caregiver in a 30-day period.

Did SB73 allow patients to grow cannabis at home?  

No, that was never considered in any of the versions of SB73.  One of the last  amendments to SB73 limited cannabis to indoor cultivation only by licensed cannabis production facilities that would be regulated by the State.

What qualifying illnesses did SB73 cover?

  • HIV, acquired immune deficiency syndrome or an autoimmune disorder;
  • Alzheimer's disease;
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis;
  • cancer, cachexia, or such condition manifest by physical wasting, nausea, or malnutrition associated with chronic disease;
  • Crohn's disease or a similar gastrointestinal disorder;
  • epilepsy or a similar condition that causes debilitating seizures;
  • multiple sclerosis or a similar condition that causes persistent and debilitating muscle spasms;
  • post-traumatic stress disorder related to military service; and
  • chronic pain in an individual  if the individual was at risk of becoming addicted to or overdosing on opiate-based pain medication, had allergies to opiates, or was unable to use opiates. 

If a patient did not have a qualifying illness, was there another way to acquire a medical cannabis card?

Patients could go before a Compassionate Use Board (CUB) which was made up of 5 physicians, the director of the Department of Health, two medical researchers, and one member with a specialty in addiction-based medicine.  The CUB could hear an individual’s petition for a medical cannabis card.  The patient and their physician would both have to appear before it. Based on the language in SB73 the CUB would be required to meet at least quarterly but more often if there were more petitions to review. If the Health Department decided that the CUB recommendation was properly made, the Department would issue a provisional medical cannabis card valid for one year. 

What protections did SB73 provide to medical cannabis users?

SB73 allowed an individual driving with a measurable metabolite of cannabis to assert as an affirmative defense that the individual used the cannabis pursuant to Utah law or the law of another stateAmendment 1 to SB73 removed protections previously provided for employees of government agencies, local governments, or school districts. 

How many times could a cannabis production facility be inspected annually?  Dispensaries? 

Amendment 2 to SB73 changed the number of scheduled and unscheduled inspections of cannabis production facilities and dispensaries to any time with no limit provided. This is similar to the process in other states with medical cannabis programs. 

Where could cannabis be sold in Utah?  Could counties restrict medical cannabis businesses from opening up a storefront or production facility?  

Amendment 3 to SB73 made a change that allowed local municipalities to set zoning restrictions for cannabis businesses and to deny cannabis businesses licenses in individual counties.  Before this Amendment was approved, municipalities or local governments could not enact zoning ordinances that prohibited a cannabis establishment from operating in a location within the municipality's or local government's jurisdiction.

How many production facilities were allowed? Growers? Labs? 

There was no defined restriction on the number of production facilities. Cultivation, testing laboratory and processing facilities, however,  were required  to have $250,000 in liquid assets and an initial $5,000 application fee before 2017 and $65,000 before 2018.  Applications had to be renewed every two years. A renewal fee set by the Department of Health would be charged. Dispensary applications required $500,000 in liquid assets and a $5,000 application fee before 2018.  After that fees would set by the Department of Health.

How many medical cannabis patients could a properly licensed physician with cannabis training be allowed to treat?

Physicians could not recommend medical cannabis to more than 250 of their patients at any given time.  However, certain specialties could have more than 250 cannabis patients under their care, but never more than 20% of their practice as long as certain conditions were met. The following specialties would have been able to request a larger than 250 cannabis patient population: anesthesiology, gastroenterology, neurology, oncology, pain and palliative care, physiatry, psychiatry, and addiction medicine.

Physicians requesting expanded patient numbers would have to appear before the CUB and demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Board that their practice had unique characteristics that warranted allowing them to recommend cannabis to more than 250 of their patients and that they had established expertise in the recommendation of medical cannabis. The Department of Health would issue the final approval for these requests.

Did SB73 protect parents using medical cannabis from having their children removed by the Department of Child & Family Services?

Yes, SB73 included the following language:

“...a court may not discriminate against a parent because of the parent's possession or consumption of a cannabis product or a medical cannabis device, in accordance with Title 26, Chapter 58, Medical Cannabis Act.”

Does SB73 protect people involved in a custody dispute?  

Yes, SB73 contains the following language:

“...a court may not discriminate against a parent because of the parent's possession or consumption of a cannabis product or a medical cannabis device, in accordance with Title 26, Chapter 58, Medical Cannabis Act.”

Was there a research component contained in SB73?  Did medical cannabis cardholders have to take part in research projects?

Yes, a person or organization could request to conduct a medical research study using cardholder data from medical cannabis cardholders.  The Department of Health would release de-identified data in order to protect patient privacy.

Why won’t we be involved the proposed medical cannabis initiative?

Any cannabis related ballot initiative will not be seen on the ballot until 2018 at the earliest, with implementation taking 2-3 years after a successful popular vote. If passed in the November 2018 election cycle, the legislature would then have to convene and approve enabling legislation. This process usually takes about four months, but due to the complex nature of this issue could take longer. Following that process, whatever program was voted for would then have to have implementation language adopted by all regulatory agencies involved and any of the various departments needed to ensure successful program implementation. This procedure could take up to or more than a year. Cannabis businesses could then begin to operate and start producing product. So, if the initiative were to pass in 2018, it would likely be mid-2020 before the program would be operational. If the initiative were to fail in 2018, another attempt would not be feasible until 2020, further delaying the process. That is why, at this point, DPPU is working closely with our legislators to develop a comprehensive medical cannabis bill to be passed during the 2017 Utah legislative session.

Here’s what we have to celebrate on March 31st at our Legislative Wrap-Up Party.

Despite our disappointment that we aren’t gearing up for the implementation of a medical cannabis program this year, many other constructive and important drug policy-related bills passed this session. They might not have had the attention that the medical cannabis bill got, but many of these pieces of legislation will have positive impacts for many Utahns.

During the 2016 session DPPU was tracking and at times providing vital input and research for the following list of bills that passed this session:

  1. HB058 - Hemp Extract Amendments (Representative Froerer)
  2. HB114 - Controlled Substance Reporting (Representative Ward)
  3. HB150 - Controlled Substance Prescription Notification (Representative Daw)
  4. HB192 - Opiate Overdose Response Act-Pilot Program and Amendments (Representative McKell)
  5. HB236 - Charitable Prescription Drug Recycling Program (Representative Froerer)
  6. HB238 - Opiate Overdose Response Act (Representative Spackman Moss)
  7. HB239 - Access to Opioid Prescription Information via Practitioner Data Management Systems (Representative McKell)
  8. HB240 - Opioid Overdose Response Act (Representative Eliason)
  9. HCR4 - Concurrent Resolution Declaring Drug Overdose Deaths to be a Public Health Emergency (Representative Moss)
  10. SCR11 - Concurrent Resolution Urging the Rescheduling of Marijuana (Senator Shiozawa)

What is next for us, DPPU, now that the 2016 legislative session has finished?  

In terms of medical cannabis, we will continue to work with legislators interested in establishing a medical cannabis program in Utah. We are dedicated and believe the most effective and efficient path forward is via the legislative process. We are working with Representative Daw to begin planning for the 2017 legislative session. We will assist him in improving his bill (SB89) using data driven research and by engaging important stakeholders including patients, physicians, law enforcement, local businesses and other essential organizations. 

DPPU recently modified both our Vision and Mission statements to broaden our scope of activity to include more and varied drug policy related topics. Our website has all the information you need learn more about what we are working on in addition to medical cannabis.

Vision Statement:

We envision a Utah where drug policies are just for all people and reflect scientific research, current medical understanding, and evidenced-based practices in a way that best promotes positive outcomes for individuals, families, and communities.

Mission Statement:

Our mission is to inform and educate Utahns about important drug-related policies through research, data, and policy analysis.