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Utah 2018 Medical Marijuana Initiative

How will the recent medical marijuana voter initiative affect probation terms relating to marijuana use or possession in Utah?

How Utah's 2018 medical marijuana initiative will affect a person on probation will depend on a number of factors. The two biggest factors likely will be 1) how the legislature responded to the initiative and what modifications it makes to the legal changes that were approved by voters relating to marijuana; and 2) the exact terms of probation ordered by the court.

This page presents only general information on these issues, and should not be considered legal advice. If you are facing charges for marijuana possession, use, or distribution, or if you are on probation or facing a possible order to show cause, having good legal representation and counsel specific to your circumstances is critical. Contact us to see what the right attorney can do for you.

Legislative Response to Voter Initiative on Marijuana

It remains to be seen how the Utah legislature will respond to the initiative on medical marijuana approved by Utah voters in 2018. Prior to the actual election, legislative leaders had given strong indications that they intended to take action regardless of which direction the vote went. If the initiative did not pass, the legislature was likely going to make changes to Utah law to allow some form of medical marijuana use. If the initiative did pass (which it did), the legislature indicated that they would likely make modifications to the legal changes created by the initiative.

As of the date of publication for this post, the legislature has not yet convened to make any such changes, nor have the changes established by the initiative taken effect. With the social and cultural changes that have occurred in recent years in relation to marijuana (both in terms of medical use and recreational use), it seems inevitable that medical marijuana use in some form in Utah will be approved by the legislature.

Effect of Medical Marijuana Legalization on Probationers

How a person on probation will be affected by Utah's medical marijuana voter initiative will depend on the specific conditions of probation imposed by the court. Also key to assessing the effect of medical marijuana legalization on probationers is an understanding that a court may, as a condition of probation in a criminal case, restrict or even completely prohibit conduct that would otherwise be legal.

Criminal Attorney for Utah Marijuana ChargesCommon conditions of probation in Utah criminal cases include: no new criminal violations of law; no illegal use of drugs or controlled substances; and no alcohol use while on probation. Each of these conditions can provide insight and understanding into how the medical marijuana initiative may affect persons who are under court-ordered probation conditions in a Utah criminal case.

No New Criminal Violations - This is perhaps the most common probation condition imposed by Utah courts. Judge often specifically state that this condition includes violations of either state, local, or federal criminal law. Regardless of how Utah chooses to legally deal with marijuana, current federal law retains criminal provisions relating to the use, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana. Technically, a person who is in compliance with Utah's law governing marijuana could still be found to be in violation of federal criminal law.

Federal prosecutors in general have not recently pursued marijuana-related charges against individuals who are otherwise in compliance with state and local laws governing marijuana. But a local or state prosecutor need not establish a formal criminal conviction in order to show that probation terms have been violated. A person therefore need not be convicted by a federal court in order for a state or local court to make a finding that the person had violated federal criminal law and thus also had violated the terms of probation ordered by the court.

No Illegal Use of Drugs or Controlled Substances - Drug use plays a role in a significant number of criminal cases. It is not at all uncommon for a court to include as a condition of probation an order that a defendant not use or possess illegal drugs or controlled substances. In some circumstances, a court may also order affirmatively that a probationer continue taking medications as prescribed by a licensed provider.

Even under the 2018 medical marijuana initiative as written and approved by voters, certain requirements must still be met before a person could use or possess marijuana without violating Utah law. Setting aside any theoretical federal criminal charges that could be filed, a person could still face a probation violation order to show cause for using marijuana recreationally or for medical purposes without complying with the terms of the relevant statutes.

No Alcohol - Under most circumstances, a person over the age of 21 years is legally allowed to consume or possess alcohol. But Utah law gives a court the authority to include as a condition of probation a complete prohibition on the consumption and possession of alcohol. This is particularly common in cases where a court is convinced that alcohol played a significant role.

Similar to a complete prohibition on the use of alcohol, even if both medical and recreational use of marijuana were allowed under Utah law, a criminal court would likely be found to have the authority to order probation conditions that prohibited the use or possession of marijuana. A potential exception to a court's authority to do this could be found if it were determined that the use of marijuana was medically necessary.

Finding the Right Utah Attorney

Defense Attorney for Utah Criminal ChargesCriminal charges in Utah can have a lasting impact on a person's life.Whether filed as a felony or a misdemeanor, a criminal conviction carries serious consequences. Having the right criminal defense attorney on your side can be critical. Contact us now and see how we can help.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

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560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
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