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Utah votes to legalize medical marijuana with Proposition 2

Medical marijuana is now legal in this dependably conservative state.

A marijuana plant.
A marijuana plant.
RJ Sangosti/Denver Post via Getty Images

Utah voters during Tuesday’s midterm election approved Proposition 2, legalizing medical marijuana in a dependably conservative state.

Utah’s Proposition 2 allows patients to obtain medical marijuana cards via a doctor’s office for certain qualifying conditions, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, chronic pain (if someone is at risk for opioid painkiller addiction or overdose), and multiple sclerosis. But it prohibits smoking marijuana, instead allowing vaping, edibles, and other means of consuming pot. And it imposes some restrictions on doctors, including prohibitions on owning or working for a medical marijuana dispensary and on recommending a card to more than 20 percent of their patients.

The measure also sets up a system through which state officials will license and regulate medical marijuana businesses, from growers to dispensaries. And it allows growing up to six pot plants for personal medical use, but only if a patient lives more than 100 miles from a licensed dispensary.

Many of those details, however, are subject to change. In the lead-up to the election, Utah advocates, policymakers, and other stakeholders agreed to compromise legislation that will change how medical cannabis is actually implemented — although the legislation will need approval from the legislature and governor.

Among other changes, the compromise legislation would strip some qualifying conditions, require doctors to get certain training to recommend medical marijuana cards, ban home growing altogether, and additionally ban edibles (on top of smoking) while allowing other means of consumption.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) has said he will hold a special session to pass the compromise agreement, regardless of whether voters approve Proposition 2. The compromise has powerful Utah advocates behind it, including the Mormon church. Whether it actually passes the legislature, though, remains to be seen.

Prior to Election Day, nine states had legalized marijuana for recreational and medical purposes, while 21 others had legalized only for medical uses.

Generally, not many people deny that at least some of the components of marijuana can help with some medical conditions. The debate around medical marijuana is mostly about the details of how states implement medical marijuana — particularly about whether a state system is too lax (creating de facto legalization). Another point of contention is whether it would be better to take specific components of marijuana through the federal approval process for other medicines instead of legalizing the whole plant for medicinal use through a voter initiative.

With a lack of state and federal action, though, Utah advocates pushed for a ballot initiative — and on Tuesday, they won.

For more on marijuana legalization, read Vox’s explainer.