Gov. Gary R. Herbert, R-Utah, talks about his state’s struggles with the Medicaid program. Photo Credit
As a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana appears likely to be put before voters in November, the Utah Senate got into a Twitter fight with followers over Mormon support for legalization.
The spat began as a response to one Twitter user, who claimed that the Utah Senate’s inaction on legalization was the result of the Mormon church’s influence on lawmakers in the state.
“Dear @utahsenate please stop taking orders from a church that cant follow their own rules,” one Twitter user wrote. “The people of Utah deserve better, and it is your job to oblige them. You’re not our parents and you don’t know what’s best for us. We voted with our voices, now please listen.”
According to data collected by the Salt Lake Tribune, 88 percent of the Utah legislature identify as Mormon compared to 63 percent of Utah residents.
But the Utah Senate didn’t take the criticism lying down. When their Twitter critic pointed out that he had faced legal troubles as a result of his cannabis use, they responded by pointing out that states with low Mormon populations also ban cannabis, implying that the religion isn’t to blame for prohibition.
In fact, the Senate may be right. According to a poll conducted by pollster Dan Jones & Associates, 66 percent of Utah residents support legalization of marijuana as long as it’s prescribed by a doctor.
Among those who said they are “very active” members of the church of Latter Day Saints, 55 percent said they would support legalization of medical marijuana compared to 86 percent among those who said they have no religion.
When the Senate was asked how they would address the overwhelming support from Utah voters they responded by pointing out that they had recently passed two bills which allow for the distribution and use of medical marijuana.
However, those bills have been criticized for being far too restrictive. The cultivation and distribution bill will only allow the state’s Department of Agriculture to produce and distribute medical cannabis. While the medical access bill, known as “Right to Try” will limit prescriptions to terminally ill patients.
The voter initiative, which now looks as though it might collect enough signatures to make it onto the ballot in November, offers a far broader program by comparison. It would allow doctors to prescribe medical cannabis for a wide range of illnesses as well as allowing for dispensaries and home grows.
“We’ve passed every medical marijuana bill since 2015 including SB73, which the current initiative is based on. The ball is in your court now. It’s an initiative. The people get to decide this issue.”
Governor Herbert has said that he would actively oppose the initiative, but it’s not clear whether he will block it from becoming law.
In Utah, a ballot initiative becomes law shortly after the Governor verifies the election results. A bill that would have allowed the legislature to make changes to ballot initiatives after they’ve been approved by voters failed to pass in March.