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Salt Lake City & Cannabis:  A Brief History

A few years back, Salt Lake City and Cannabis would have sounded like an oxymoron, at least if you were referring to legal cannabis. 2018 was a milestone year for Utah because the Utah Medical Cannabis Program was finally green lighted. Of course, this came after several years of lobbying by cannabis patients, activists, and pro-cannabis legislators. Even though adult-use cannabis is not yet legal in Utah, the traditionally conservative Salt Lake City which is home to the Mormon Church has made significant strides in embracing cannabis.

This article is a journey through the long, and almost treacherous, from the days of cannabis prohibition to the present time where medical cannabis is both accepted and esteemed.

The general sentiment about cannabis in Utah in the late 1940s was that it was harmful and needed to be avoided. An anonymous author (s) of a column that was editorial-style in the Park Record focused on how vulnerable the youth were because of how Hollywood glamourizes drugs for recreation. This is what they had to say about the dangers of marijuana:

“Let us not live in a shell and neither hide our heads in the sand. The youth of our town is no different from in other towns. They are mighty fine and we love them, and so we want to keep them fine.”

By the late 1960s, the use of cannabis and other kinds of recreational drugs was rising among Salt Lake City’s youth. Dennis Smith, manager and pharmacist of Auerbach’s drug store in Salt Lake City, took it upon himself to educate receptive citizens on the effects of drug use. He got a lot of recognition for not moralizing but offering factual information on cannabis.

The journey of getting medical marijuana legalized in Utah, and therefore Salt Lake City, was a long and arduous one. We will take you through a brief history of the events that led to cannabis legalization.

Prohibition of Cannabis (1915)

Hemp was considered an essential commodity amongst early colonists (including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington). The first few drafts of America’s Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper, and the very first American flag was also made from hemp fabric. What’s more? Henry Ford created an early prototype for automobiles using hemp.

Though it is not clear exactly why this happened, cannabis was banned from Utah in either 1913 or 1915. Either way, Utah was among the first states to ban marijuana. Whether this was because of larger anti-drug legislation or as a reaction to prohibition by the LDS Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints), the ban lasted close to a century.

CBD Legalization (2014)

Governor Gary Herbert signed house Bill 105 in March 2014. This made the possession and use of CBD oil that is low in THC legal for use by registered patients with intractable epilepsy and with a physician’s recommendation. This Bill, however, did not provide a way for the patients to access the oil legally.

Medical Cannabis Legislation

SB259: In 2015, Senator Mark B. Madsen (Republican, Saratoga Springs) proposed a bill towards the end of his tenure. This bill proposed the inclusion of the following condition in the medical cannabis program:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • AIDS
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cachexia
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Nausea
  • Physical wasting or malnutrition linked to chronic disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Any condition that causes debilitating seizures
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Glaucoma
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Chronic pain

Unfortunately, this bill was defeated by a 15-14 vote in the Senate. Senators who voted against it cited that the bill was rushed. Madsen himself suffers from chronic back pain and is reported to have had a brush with death because of an accidental overdose of prescription fentanyl.

SB73: Senator Madsen proposed this bill in 2016. It listed similar conditions to SB259 while incorporating more robust tracking, cultivation, and enforcement models in response to the gap in the 2015 bill.

The Donna Weinholtz case: The wife of Mike Weinholtz, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession in October 2016. This was after a home raid that led to police seizing her medical marijuana, which she used to manage pain from a degenerative spinal condition and arthritis. She agreed to probation and a fine. This led her husband, Mike Weinholtz, to call for urgent reform in Utah’s Medical cannabis system in a widely publicized press conference.

HB195: This bill intended to legalize the “right to try” growing medical marijuana for patients who were terminally ill. This bill was passed “easily” on March 7 by the state senate and signed into law by the governor in March.

Ballot Proposition 2: In June 2017, the Utah Patients Coalition filed the Utah Medical Cannabis Act initiative which was an initiative to legalize medical marijiuana in Utah. By the beginning of 2018, the group had gathered the signatures that were required to have this bill in the November polls. It made it to the ballot and passed narrowly.

HB3001: In December 2018, the then governor asked for changes to be made to proposition 2.  HB3001 which is the Utah Medical Cannabis Act was signed into law and replaced Proposition 2. In September 2019, legislators unanimously passed the Senate Bill which amended the medical cannabis law in Utah.

Opening of Cannabis Dispensaries in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City was the first city in Utah to roll out cannabis dispensaries in January 2021. Medical cannabis patients can purchase cannabis from a dispensary in salt lake city. Wholesome Co. offers free marijuana delivery to most parts of the city, as well as other towns and cities throughout Utah.

A Ray of Hope For Cannabis in Salt Lake City

Recently, even factions like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were strongly against the use of cannabis are gradually warming up to its therapeutic potential. Marijuana in Salt Lake City has flipped from felony status to “essential business” status overnight. The legalization of marijuana in the State of Utah has come a long way. Given how conservative Utah has been for a long while, this is a reason to celebrate. That said, residents of Utah and visitors intending to use cannabis in this state should familiarize themselves with the Utah Marijuana laws.

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