SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Utah's medical cannabis law is long and complicated and the pro-medical cannabis Libertas Institute said the justice system doesn't understand it yet.
"If you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail," said Libertas president Connor Boyack. "There are certain prosecutors for whom marijuana users are nails. And now, the state of Utah has said some nails are okay and some nails aren't. But, these hammers just want to pound every single nail."
Boyack's nonprofit is now involved in defending about two dozen so-called nails he said needn't be hammered - medical cannabis users who've been busted.
In some of the cases -- about 20% -- Boyack believes the defendants are completely innocent. In the other 80%, he said defendants are being over-charged for what he considers very minor infractions.
For instance, a patient in Utah with THC-laced gummy bears from Colorado would be running afoul of the law.
"In Utah, it has to be a cube or rectangular-shaped gummy," he said.
The defendants face tough choices.
"If you want to avoid days, weeks, months in jail, you have to pass clean drug tests for the next so many months," Boyack said.
In some cases, Boyack said the stakes could be even higher.
"We've got cases in juvenile court where a judge is saying if you continue to use THC, or medical cannabis, you could lose your children," he said.
But for those who did break the law in some ways, how is the suspension of their rights to cannabis any different from losing a drivers license for a traffic violation?
"What we're talking about here is someone's medicine," Boyack said. "Make them do community service, figure out some other punishment. We're not saying don't punish them."
Part of the problem, the institute believes, is that lawyers and judges simply aren't up to speed on the new law's provisions. Boyack said public defenders, who can have massive caseloads, simply don't have the time to do proper research.
"They can't spend five hours reading a law and really digging in to defend their client," Boyack said.