Utah legislature approves measure to treat medical cannabis cards ‘like any other prescription’


The Utah Legislature has approved a bill to safeguard government employees from discrimination for using medical cannabis with a legitimate doctor’s prescription.

After being given the go-ahead by members of the Senate with a vote of 26-1, Utah’s updated medical cannabis bill proceeded with a 68-4 vote in the House.

One of the most prominent promises outlined in the bill is one saying that medical cannabis cards will be treated “like any other prescription.”

The measure urges state and local governments to handle medical cannabis use in the same way that they would deal with prescriptions for other types of controlled substances.

The state’s medical cannabis measure will now make its way to Governor Spencer Cox’s desk to be signed into law.

Utah’s updated medical cannabis bill was inspired by a suspended fireman’s story

A firefighter from the Utah city of Ogden seems to have served as the main catalyst for change to the state’s workplace-focused medical cannabis law. 

He goes by the name of Levi Coleman and his story grasped lawmakers’ attention. To put it simply, he was suspended from his firefighting duties without pay. Why? Because he would not provide proof of a medical cannabis prescription.

Coleman initiated the lawsuit against the city and the department in November 2021. He contested that his dismissal from the workplace breached the rules laid out in Utah’s Medical Cannabis Act.

The Act, which gained approval back in 2018, permits doctors to prescribe medical cannabis to patients who suffer from a broad scope of medical conditions, such as chronic pain.

Utah’s updated medical cannabis bill seeks to fix a risky “loophole” that negatively impacts cardholders.

“What this bill does is it provides some clarity to what the legislative intent was in recognizing medical cannabis as a legitimate use of cannabis for treating certain ailments, such as chronic pain,” said the provision’s floor sponsor, Rep. Joel Ferry, R-Brigham City.

Concerns and votes against Utah’s updated medical cannabis bill

Four lawmakers voted against the revised version of Utah’s medical cannabis bill. One such example was Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, who claims that he did so out of feeling uneasy that it might provide street cannabis users with a “get out of jail free card.”

Numerous lawmakers have raised concerns about the likelihood of on-the-job recreational cannabis users being able to dodge penalties. 

Conversely, SB46 does not explain how government employees should be treated if they were to attend work “high” or noticeably intoxicated.

It should be noted that employers could still punish employees who visit work under the influence, however.

“We already have extensive provisions for people where medical cannabis interferes with their ability to do their job, that’s all in the law,” said Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo. “All this says is, the simple, additional act of seeking a card is not going to subject you to being fired from your job.”

Hawkes was also perturbed about the fact that cannabis has not been acknowledged as a legal substance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical purposes and it is still considered an illicit substance under federal law. 

He described Utah’s former attempt to legalize cannabis as a “legal pathway that went outside of the way that we normally validate drugs.”

“I honestly appreciate those concerns,” responded Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan. “But if we wanted to go down every controlled substance that we have and talk about abuse, every profession and everybody would be at times possibly abusing. I mean, I’ll be honest, sometimes I take two muscle relaxers when I’m only supposed to take one, right?”