State of Cannabis: Utah Underperforms on Marijuana

Utah and MarijuanaThis is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We are now reaching the point in our series where the states we are listing are not laughably (or should we say screamingly) bad, nor are they good. They are generally okay in some areas and bad (without being horrible) in others. Today we turn to number 30: Utah. 

Our previous rankings are as follows: 31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.


Criminal Penalties. Possession of under one ounce of marijuana can earn up to six months in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000. A second conviction can earn a sentence of 1 year in prison and a maximum fine of $2,500. A third or subsequent conviction can earn 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Possessing more than one ounce but less than one pound earns up to 1 year in prison and a $2,500 fine. Possessing between 1-100 pounds can earn up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Possessing over 100 pounds earns the offender a 1-15 year jail sentence and a $10,000 fine.

Utah punishes the sale of any amount of marijuana with a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $5,000.

Medical marijuana. Utah currently allows for patients with epilepsy to use CBD oil, derived from hemp, that they must obtain from out of state. Patients must also enter a hemp registry in to legally possess the hemp oil.

As Marijuana Policy Project reports, the state came very close to expanding its program this year:

Although compassionate medical cannabis legislation got further than ever before in Utah by passing the state Senate, this year’s legislative session concluded without House lawmakers following suit. Sen. Mark Madsen’s SB 73 was voted down in the Health and Human Services Committee, and the clock ran out on passage of an inferior low-THC bill.

Though Utah’s getting this close to having a legitimate medical cannabis regime is encouraging, the fact remains that Utah still does not have a workable medical marijuana program. Interestingly, the medical marijuana debate caused the Church of Latter-Day Saints to  clarify its position on medical marijuana. The Mormon Church stated its opposition to SB 73, but also stated that it supported another bill that had stricter measures on distribution and THC content. You can read the church’s statement on medical marijuana here.

Finally, a poll by the Salt-Lake Tribune shows that around 61% of Utah voters support legalizing medical marijuana. Hopefully, this signals to Utah’s legislature that it is time to expand medical marijuana and to allow Utah patients access to medical cannabis.

Hemp. Though Utah does not have an expansive hemp program, it does allow its Department of Agriculture and Universities to grow hemp for educational purposes.

Bottomline. From a criminal law perspective Utah is an interesting state. Small amounts of marijuana are punished relatively harshly and the state has not decriminalized marijuana. However, the ceiling for penalties is relatively low. We have seen states lock up marijuana offenders for lifetimes. Utah has relatively bad criminal laws for cannabis, but it does not impose incredibly long sentences for marijuana crimes. Additionally, the state has a restrictive medical marijuana program now, but recent legislative activity and cannabis polling results point towards change in the near future. All of this makes Utah a sort of “jack of all trades” when it comes to middling marijuana laws. No one area (criminal law, medical, etc.) stands out, but when all are together the state is certainly not great, but certainly not horrible either.

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