To Smoke or Not to Smoke: Cannabis Legality in Utah

Cannabis legality in Utah is a complex and evolving topic. While the use of recreational cannabis is illegal in the state, Utah has implemented a medical cannabis program that allows qualifying patients to use cannabis as a treatment option for certain medical conditions. 

The program is still relatively new, with the first medical cannabis dispensaries opening in 2020, and continues to face challenges related to federal prohibition and other legal and logistical issues. Overall, the legality of cannabis in Utah is shaped by a variety of factors, including state and federal laws, public opinion, and the evolving understanding of cannabis as a medicine and recreational substance.

Not So Wild West

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During the 1900s, attitudes towards cannabis in Utah, as in much of the United States, were generally negative. Cannabis was not widely used or understood, and was often associated with negative stereotypes and misinformation.

In 1915, Utah became one of the first states in the U.S. to pass a law regulating the use of cannabis. The law prohibited the sale, possession, and use of cannabis, and made it a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $100.

In the years that followed, anti-cannabis attitudes in Utah and across the country continued to grow. The federal government passed the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, effectively making cannabis illegal at the federal level and limiting its use for medical purposes. This set the stage for decades of strict prohibition and the stigmatization of cannabis use as a dangerous and illegal activity.

Welcome to the 21st Century

It wasn't until the late 20th and early 21st century that attitudes towards cannabis began to shift in Utah and other parts of the country. With the growing acceptance of medical cannabis as a legitimate treatment option, and the legalization of recreational cannabis in some states, attitudes towards cannabis are now more nuanced and complex, with some seeing it as a beneficial medicine while others continue to view it as a harmful drug.

Better Late Than Never

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In 2018, the state passed a law, known as Proposition 2, allowing for the use of medical cannabis for certain qualifying conditions. However, it wasn't until March 2020 that medical cannabis dispensaries began to open in the state.

To qualify for medical cannabis in Utah, patients must have a qualifying medical condition, such as cancer, epilepsy, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among others. Patients must also obtain a recommendation from a qualified healthcare provider and register with the Utah Department of Health's medical cannabis program.

In 2020, a group called the Utah Marijuana Initiative announced that they were gathering signatures for a ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis. However, the group did not gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. As of current standing the use of recreational cannabis is illegal in Utah, and possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is considered a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Dispensaries Begin to Appear

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As stated above, it took until March 2020 for the first medical cannabis dispensaries to open in Utah. Currently, there are more than a dozen medical cannabis dispensaries in Utah. These dispensaries are licensed by the state and operate under strict regulations, including limits on the types and amounts of products they can sell and requirements for security, record-keeping, and labeling.

In order to purchase medical cannabis products from a dispensary in Utah, patients must first obtain a recommendation from a qualified healthcare provider and register with the Utah Department of Health's medical cannabis program. Once registered, patients can visit a dispensary to purchase a variety of medical cannabis products, including oils, capsules, tinctures, topicals, and vaporizable products.

Get Low, Way Down Low

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While cannabis patients can now get the products they need, it doesn’t come without restrictions. The law sets limits on the amount of THC that can be contained in medical cannabis products based on the type of product. Specifically, the THC limit is 30% by weight for unprocessed cannabis flower. For other types of medical cannabis products, such as edibles, topicals, and concentrates, the THC limit is 60 milligrams per dosage, with a maximum of 600 milligrams per package.

In addition to the THC limits, the law also sets restrictions on the types of medical cannabis products that are available to patients. For example, smokable cannabis flower is not allowed, and the law requires that medical cannabis products be sold in child-resistant packaging and labeled with detailed information about their contents and dosage.

It's worth noting that the limits on THC content in medical cannabis products in Utah are among the lowest in the country, and have been criticized by some advocates who argue that the limits are too restrictive and make it difficult for patients to obtain the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.

Only in Utah

While some other states allow out-of-state medical cannabis patients to purchase and use medical cannabis within their borders, Utah does not currently have reciprocity agreements with other states. This means that patients who are registered in other states' medical cannabis programs cannot use their medical cannabis cards to purchase products from dispensaries in Utah.

Ever Evolving

Overall, the medical cannabis program in Utah is relatively new and continues to evolve. However, many patients have reported positive experiences with the program and the dispensaries, and the state is working to expand access to medical cannabis for qualifying patients.

The 2022 legislative session in Utah saw a range of bipartisan bills passed that expanded the medical cannabis program. Some of the victories include: expanded protections for cannabis patients, expanded access to medical cannabis in hospice, and a categorization of cannabis as a prescription medication in response to discrimination by first responders.

So, What About CBD?

In Utah, the legal status of CBD (cannabidiol) depends on its source and THC content. Under Utah law, CBD is legal if it meets the following criteria:

  • It is derived from hemp, which is defined as the cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3% THC.
  • It contains less than 0.3% THC. If a CBD product contains more than 0.3% THC, it is considered to be marijuana under Utah law and is subject to different legal restrictions.

CBD products that meet these criteria are legal to use and sell in Utah. They can be found in many different forms, including oils, tinctures, capsules, topicals, and edibles.

Only the future will tell what the next steps for Utah’s cannabis legislation will entail. In the meantime, check out our blogs to learn more about cannabis and its history.