To this point, state lawmakers have focused on mid-November when considering potential dates for a special session on medical marijuana.
But now, officials are saying there could be a hitch with the original scheduling plan.
November is still in the cards if Proposition 2 founders, but if the cannabis measure passes, the special session will probably have to wait until the following month.
The reason is somewhat technical: If Prop 2 succeeds, lawmakers will want to reshape it to line up with the consensus proposal rolled out by officials and advocates last month. However, they can’t start tinkering with initiative language until it becomes law.
That wouldn’t happen immediately. Election officials will be counting ballots until late November, and even after the results are certified, there is a five-day period before the proposition would take effect. In other words, the initiative wouldn’t become law until Dec. 1.
“For this reason, the anticipated special session will likely either occur on our regularly scheduled interim day, Wednesday, November 14th, if the proposition fails, or Monday, December 3rd, if the proposition passes,” House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, explained in an email Wednesday to lawmakers.
A special session in early December would come a few weeks before legislators would convene for their annual session. Christine Stenquist, president of TRUCE Utah, said she doesn’t understand the need to cram in a special session before the year’s end.
She believes the freshman class of lawmakers, many of whom will arrive in January fresh off the campaign trail, will have a better grasp of the public sentiment on medical cannabis.
“They’ve heard firsthand from [constituents] where they stand on Proposition 2, so I think they’re just better equipped to deal with this issue,” said Stenquist, a strong supporter of the initiative.
Connor Boyack, another medical marijuana advocate, said he wants to get a cannabis bill on the books in Utah as soon as possible.
“If we wait a couple months, that just delays implementation and access,” said Boyack, a leader in the Utah Patients Coalition.
Boyack was part of formulating the medical cannabis agreement unveiled last month by legislators and advocates on both sides of the Prop 2 debate. Supporters and opponents of the initiative came together over draft legislation that calls for a more tightly controlled medical marijuana program, and officials initially said they would present the measure to lawmakers in a November special session.
Over the past week or so, Boyack said, legislative analysts informed state leaders that the session would have to wait if the initiative wins voter approval.
The affirmative defense provision in Prop 2 fuels some of the desire to call a special session without delay. Opponents of the ballot initiative believe this defense would enable almost anyone to carry marijuana without facing criminal prosecution, up until July 2020.
“Around the affirmative defense provision, we feel we need guardrails put on sooner rather than later in terms of trying to prevent having cannabis diverted into a black market in the state,” Paul Edwards, spokesman for Gov. Gary Herbert, said.
Edwards also noted that Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, will be out of office by the time January’s general session rolls around. Since they were involved in crafting the cannabis compromise, Edwards said, they should be the ones to shepherd it through the Legislature.
“They see it as quite a monumental legislative achievement," he said, “and we want to be able to honor their leadership.”