The agreement on medical cannabis announced Thursday is a welcome compromise in a political climate that too often can’t find middle ground. It’s a good first step in a state that has resisted the first step.
The next step is for voters to pass Proposition 2.
Despite earnest pledges from Gov. Gary Herbert and legislative leaders to make the “shared vision” into law with or without Prop 2’s approval, the only sure thing for Utah patients seeking legitimate medicine is for Utahns to insist on it at the ballot box. That will tee the Legislature up nicely to follow through with the modifications proposed in the compromise.
As much as the tenor of Utah’s political leaders has changed recently when it comes to medical cannabis, leaving this to the Legislature would be far from a sure thing. This is a group that has resisted at every step, and there still is a powerful establishment that has only come as far as it has because the citizenry has demanded it.
The compromise’s biggest changes from Prop 2 center around cultivation and distribution. In essence, it removes the language that allows patients to look out for themselves if the state drags its feet on making cannabis available.
If the governor and legislative leaders act as quickly as they say they will, the grow-your-own need goes away. Similarly, the compromise to allow five state-run dispensaries instead of smaller, private ventures depends on the state opening the dispensaries soon.
In this respect, the people behind the initiative played it just right. They have forced the other side to negotiate.
In reality, this is a compromise that could last years, but not decades. While more than 80 percent of the nation already has medical cannabis, more than 20 percent can get it without any medical reason at all. And despite lots of fear mongering by opponents, life hasn’t changed much in those nine states and the District of Columbia.
Utah doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Of those nine states, six are in the West, including states to the east and west of us. The question won’t be whether Utah wants recreational marijuana. It’s already here. The question will be whether we want to tax and regulate it or let it continue underground.
And what happens when cannabis users prefer to spend their travel dollars in states where they aren’t criminals? Look for the hospitality and tourism industry to be the leading edge on updating our laws, just as they were the driving force in modernizing Utah’s liquor laws.
But that’s still a ways off. For now, let’s celebrate that such divergent political forces can come together with the hope of making life more bearable for sick people. The best way to celebrate is to vote for Proposition 2.