SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Less than six months from the legal sale of medical cannabis in the state of Utah, state legislators made big changes to how patients will get it unanimously passing a substitute bill doubling the number of marijuana dispensaries.

Substitute Bill 1002 passed the House with 66 yes and 0 no votes – and passed 27-0 in the Senate.

The bill doubles the number of medical cannabis dispensaries from 7 to 14 but that’s still fewer distribution sites than if each of Utah’s 29 County Health Departments participated. 

According to the President and Founder of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education Christine Stenquist, it’s also lower than the number of sites under the now-dead “Central Fill” plan.

“What we had with Central Fill was 13 distribution sites on top of the 7 dispensaries, private dispensaries we would have had so that would have been a total of 20 distribution sites for patients to pick up medication,” Stenquist told ABC4 News. “There’s only still going to be 7 distribution sites in the 7 licenses but there’s also going to be a few more granted up to 14 but it is going to be a slow rollout…That’s problematic for me. I’m very concerned about our patients not getting adequate access to medication that they need.”

Mike Melendez, Policy Director for the Libertas Institute, tells me his organization is pleased with the substitute bill. Six dispensaries will open in March with another 8 in July. We just don’t know where yet.

“That’s going to be up to the regulators who are going to decide where they go,” Melendez said Tuesday. “They’ve split the state into four quadrants and they’re making sure that there’s as much access as possible to as many people as possible and have a good spread.”

Still, Desiree Hennessy, Executive Director of the Utah patients Coalition, says there will be patients living far, perhaps hundreds of miles, from their nearest dispensary.

“For me, for instance, we live up in Cache Valley,” Hennessy said. “So patients like the ones in Cache are going to have a harder time getting their medication, longer distance to travel.”

The substitute bill includes provisions for delivery of medical cannabis for patients who are homebound or live in rural areas. Details on those delivery services still have to be worked out before distribution of medical cannabis becomes legal on March 1st, 2020.

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