With passage of Prop 2, Utah Patients Coalition reorganizes, shifts attention to lobbying the Legislature

FILE - In this June 26, 2017, file photo, Davis Cromar, center, holds his son Holden, 10, who suffers from epilepsy, while standing with other patients, caregivers and supporters during the Utah Patients Coalition news conference, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

The campaign behind this year's medical cannabis initiative is changing shape so it can continue pushing state policymakers for patient access to the treatment.

The group, Utah Patients Coalition, has operated so far as a political issues committee (PIC) dedicated to the passage of Proposition 2. Now, it’s reorganizing as a political action committee (PAC so that it can advocate generally on legislative and political issues.

The group’s new director, Desiree Hennessy, said the first order of business will be working on passing the Utah Medical Cannabis Act in a special session next week. The legislation — crafted as a compromise among medical marijuana supporters, Prop 2 opponents and lawmakers — will replace the ballot initiative passed by voters earlier this month.

"From here on out, the goal is just to stay involved and be able to keep pushing this bill forward and to be able to get a working plan for the patients in Utah to have something they can use to get medical cannabis," Hennessy said.

Hennessy was an original signer of the petition to put Prop 2 on the ballot and is a caretaker for her 24-year-old son, Hestevan, who has cerebral palsy and other medical conditions.

Hennessy said that the negotiated cannabis bill is not perfect and that she prefers Prop 2 in many ways (although she acknowledges the initiative, too, needs fixing). But she said compromise legislation is the way forward.

“I understand the only way to get anything is through this compromise,” she said.

She said she will be advocating for changes to the bill so that it will better accommodate patients.

The Utah Patients Coalition was previously led by DJ Schanz, who said he’s not yet sure what his role will be going forward but that he will stay engaged in the discussion. Schanz said work on medical cannabis will continue for years to come, as lawmakers consider tweaks and improvements to the program.

He expects legislators largely will leave the legislation alone in the 2019 session but might look at modifications in 2020.

As a PAC, the Utah Patients Coalition also will be able to support or oppose candidates for elected office, something the group couldn’t do as a PIC.

The group's new assistant director will be Melissa Sue Butler, a hospice nurse and signer of the Prop 2 petition.

“This new organization will allow us to continue working with elected officials for years to come to make sure the public voice is heard, and that patients aren’t criminalized,” she said in a news release. “For years we’ve shared stories that have been heard — and now it’s time for action.”