Despite having a reputation as being ultra conservative, medical cannabis has been legal in Utah since 2018. However, marijuana reform is still moving at a glacial pace in the state. Even after receiving a number of changes since its inception, the state’s medical marijuana laws remain painfully backward. For example, around 2019 when doctors were already allowed to recommend medical marijuana, only a small percentage willingly issued recommendations and patients often had to pay expensive fees to get them. Also, since there barely any dispensaries in the state, patients have to go elsewhere to get their cannabis medication, protected only by an affirmative defense that, according to marijuana advocates, did not always work.
It is clear that before any mention of adult-use legalization, the Beehive State needs to fix its medical marijuana laws first. While there are numerous issues to be addressed, lawmakers like Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla think that making it easier for doctors to recommend medical marijuana and reducing the costs for patients should take priority for this year.
Rep. Ray Ward, who is a physician and co-sponsor of SB 170 with Sen. Escamilla, says that their bill should bring down the cost of marijuana recommendations by lessening the hoops doctors need to go through like hours of training and fees to be able to recommend cannabis. Having more doctors recommend cannabis to more patients should bring down predatory costs that patients are currently dealing with.
Another bill lined up for this year that will give patients greater access to cannabis is HB 0210. Sponsored by Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion, the bill seeks to significantly expand the list of qualifying conditions. It will also allow those who suffer opioid addiction to receive medical marijuana for pain management.
Overview of Utah Marijuana Laws
Even though medical marijuana is already legal in Utah, patients still don’t have the right to grow their own plants. Likewise, recreational cannabis is still illegal in any form in the state.
- Possession – Simple possession of an amount up to a pound is a misdemeanor while anything in excess is already a felony.
- Less than an ounce – a prison sentence of up to 6 months and a maximum fine of $1000.
- An ounce to 1 lb – a prison sentence of up to a year and a maximum fine of $2500.
- 1 lb to 100 lbs – a prison sentence of up to 5 years and a maximum fine of $5000.
- More than 100 lbs – a prison sentence of 1 to 15 years and a maximum fine of $10,000.
- Sale/Distribution – Selling any amount of marijuana in Utah is a felony punishable by 5 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $5000. Penalties are increased if the offense was carried out In the presence of a minor or within 1000 ft of a school and other designated public areas.
- Cultivation – Cultivation of marijuana in Utah carries the same penalties as possession and is based on the aggregate weight of plants involved in the offense.
History of Marijuana in Utah
Some sources say that Utah was the first state to ban cannabis in 1915 and not California. It was suggested that it was the Mormons that quickly prohibited the use of marijuana, a practice that was brought over by returning missionaries from Mexico. Regardless, weed never really caught on in the Beehive State and it was only in 2014 that lawmakers offered ailing Utahns a bit of access to CBD. In March of that year, HB 105, a bill that legalized low-THC/high-CBD cannabis oil was signed into law. However, it did not include a provision that would allow patients to legally acquire such an oil and because of this, patient access to much needed medication had to be brought in from other states which was illegal.
Surprisingly enough, it was a Republican lawmaker who made the first notable effort to expand Utah’s medical marijuana program. In 2015, Sen. Mark B. Madsen introduced SB 259 which sought to include AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autoimmune disorders, cachexia or physical wasting, nausea, malnutrition due to chronic disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, and conditions with severe and debilitating muscle spasms, seizures or pain.
However, the bill failed to pass that year and although Sen. Madsen tried again the following year with SB 73, it was clear that opposition to marijuana reform was just too great in the state at that time. Even Sen. Evan Vickers’ SB 89, an already narrow law that aimed to expand the low-THC CBD oil law to include a number of other conditions, similarly got shot down. Perhaps as a consolation, marijuana got reclassified that year to a Schedule II drug under Senate Concurrent Resolution 11.
By 2018, the pressure to legalize medical marijuana from within was mounting and the divide between the opinion of voters and lawmakers had obviously widened. In November that year, Proposition 2 got approved with a solid lead of 53% to 47%. The measure would have given patients in Utah the right to buy either two ounces of marijuana or an equivalent product containing no more than 10 grams of THC or CBD at the very least. However, legislators swiftly tried to replace it with the more restrictive Utah Medical Cannabis Act which was immediately signed into law on December 3, 2018, and took effect on the same day. It is said that HB 3001, which significantly reduced private dispensaries, largely prohibited edibles, and removed most autoimmune diseases, was reportedly passed to appease the Latter Day Saints Church who has a dominating presence in the state.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Utah
How does Utah’s marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Utah
Adult-use cannabis is still illegal in Utah.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not yet allowed in Utah.
Yes, medical cannabis is allowed in Utah.
Two bills that aim to improve Utah’s medical marijuana laws will be making their way through the legislature in the next few months.
SB 170 aims to make it easier for more doctors to recommend medical marijuana and reduce costs associated with getting marijuana recommendations for patients.
Meanwhile, HB 0210 seeks to significantly expand the list of qualifying conditions and allow those who suffer opioid addiction to receive medical marijuana for pain management.
None, it is still illegal to cultivate cannabis for medical or recreational purposes in Utah.
Utah residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana at home.
Growing marijuana in Utah is still illegal for residents of all ages.
Given the current glacial pace of marijuana reform in Utah, it is unlikely for anything other than the expansion of its medical marijuana program to get approved this year. Since 2018, patients are still struggling to get legal access to proper cannabis medication, which is indicative of the unwillingness of state legislators to really get the state’s medical cannabis off the ground, as well as the influence of the LDS Church’s influence at work. However, the Beehive State will have to face reality once the effects of marijuana decriminalization at the federal level, which is likely to happen as early as this year, and the effects of being landlocked by 6 marijuana-legal states intensifies in the next few years.