Road trippers headed to Park City may want to hit the brakes before filling their cars, or their overnight bags, with alcohol or cannabis.
Recreational cannabis is now legal in three of Utah’s neighboring states – Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada – and legal in nearby California, Montana, South Dakota and Washington as well. So it’s understandable that some visitors are used to packing their supplies when they vacation.
But Utah’s laws apply in Utah, and only medical marijuana is legal here. Without a license, possessing a small amount of any cannabis product is still a Class B misdemeanor. And even those with medical licenses may not legally transport cannabis across state lines by Utah law.
Additionally, transporting alcohol across state lines, from Evanston, WY to Park City, for example, is also a class B misdemeanor that carries a potential $500 fine (and can result in seizure of the alcohol; a further hit to the wallet).
It can be a confusing situation. And law enforcement officials understand that; it’s hard for them too, they say.
The changing legal landscape “creates unique challenges,” for law enforcement, said Summit County Sherriff’s Lieutenant Andrew Wright.
“When Utah considered medical cannabis, law enforcement had to step back and retrain around an evolving issue,” Wright said. “We have adjusted our enforcement based off of evolving laws.”
That evolution is ongoing. Cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to decriminalize it last December, but the bill then stalled in the Senate and was not passed. California Senator and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has long advocated federal decriminalization, and with a new administration and congress, the likelihood of that occurring has increased.
Whereas in the past deputies would regularly handcuff and arrest anyone they found possessing even a very small amount of cannabis, that has changed with the advent of medical cannabis, Wright said.
Things changed even more last year. Concerns over the spread of Covid-19 further heightened scrutiny of who is arrested and taken to jail. While Wright emphasized that the department is not “turning a blind eye,” small possession infractions are now likely to elicit citations rather than arrests.
He said people who use cannabis must remember that driving impaired, with or without a medical card, is considered driving under the influence.
Deputies are well-trained to use discretion, Wright said, and the quantity of controlled substance is highly relevant in infractions. A U-Haul pulling out of the liquor store parking lot in Evanston would garner attention, and a duffel bag full of edibles would put its owner into potential felony category, he said.
“Our priority isn’t to be out looking for people that have some edibles that they got from a friend or another state,” he said. “It’s not our primary focus.”
The department’s primary focus, he added, is resident safety and security, addressing property and personal crimes, and serving from a standpoint of compassion, critical thinking, and common sense.
Over the years, Wright said he’s encountered many people surprised to learn they can’t buy kegs in Wyoming and bring them back here for home use. His advice: Think growlers, and get up to speed on Utah’s own brewed products. He also recommended the DABC’s phone app, which allows Utahns to search for favorite beverages and place special orders.
“There are hurdles,” he said. “You have to pay Utah taxes. You’re going to pay the premium price.”
But at least there won’t be any trouble.
For more detail on medical marijuana in Utah, visit medicalcannibis.utah.gov.