It is well known within the medical cannabis world that Utah has one of the strictest programs in the country. State law limits the number of business licenses regulators can issue. It limits how much product patients can purchase and possess at any given time. State law even restricts out-of-state purchase and possession. Knowing how restrictive state rules are, you might wonder why Utah does what it does.
Mississippi legislators recently got at least a partial explanation during a Zoom meeting with Utah state senator Evan Vickers. They also spoke with Oklahoma representative Scott Fetgatter during the meeting. He offered some insights that could further explain why Utah’s medical cannabis program is so restrictive.
A Highly Conservative State
To understand what the two lawmakers had to say, it is important to know just how conservative Utah is. The Beehive State was originally founded by members of the Mormon church fleeing persecution in Eastern states. Because the church plays such an important role in Utah’s culture, the state remains politically conservative.
You could consider Utah’s conservatism organic. As such, most of the rest of the country was surprised when voters approved the original medical cannabis proposition a couple of years ago. Observers were further surprised when a state court upheld the proposition and ordered lawmakers to codify it in state law.
In short, no one expected Utah to establish a medical cannabis program when it did. Most people expected the state to be one of the last holdouts. And yet, they are now among the thirty-six states that have medical cannabis programs in place.
Keeping It Strictly Medical
It is clear from listening to Utah lawmakers that they intend to keep their program strictly medical. One of the ways they do that is by limiting business licenses. For example, Deseret Wellness in Provo is one of only fourteen licensed pharmacies in the state. By contrast, Oklahoma has licensed some 2,000 dispensaries.
Utah’s fourteen pharmacies are supplied by processors who receive biomass from just eight growers. Though limited supply is not keeping up with patient demand, the one positive aspect of limiting business licenses is preventing out-of-state operations from coming in and taking over.
Oklahoma Getting Out of Hand
Utah’s program is specifically designed to keep things under control. The state wants to avoid letting medical cannabis get out of hand, as is now the case in Oklahoma. According to Fetgatter, the Sooner State has a lot of problems with its medical cannabis program. Much of what they are dealing with relates to two issues: expansive licensing opportunities and the fact that smoking is legal.
Fetgatter advised Mississippi lawmakers to protect state agricultural concerns in order to prevent out-of-state operations from moving in. Apparently, Oklahoma has a big problem with growers coming into the state, growing and harvesting marijuana, then selling it to out-of-state buyers – often illegally.
The Oklahoma lawmaker also advised his Mississippi counterparts to create a single agency to oversee any future medical marijuana program. Having too many state agencies involved only creates conflicts that lead to further problems.
Maintaining Industry Control
If you’ve ever been curious as to why Utah’s medical cannabis program is so strict, comparing the comments made by Sen. Vickers and Rep. Fetgatter explain it well enough. Utah wants to maintain strict control so that their program remains exactly what it was envisioned to be.
Will Utah ever loosen up and shift more toward Oklahoma’s program? Who knows? But if they do, they may eventually end up like Colorado or California. Right now, state lawmakers have no intention of letting that happen.