Gary Herbert, governor of Utah, speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. (Photo by Scott Eells/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
They’re trying to block a legalization initiative from getting on the ballot in November.
The Utah Medical Association (UMA), which represents doctors within the state, has issued a statement claiming that the organizers of a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana have misled its supporters. A petition being circulated by supporters of the initiative is now within striking distance of the signatures it needs to be placed on the ballot in November. In response, the UMA is asking those who signed the petition, under allegedly false pretenses, to rescind their signatures.
“UMA urges the rejection of the Utah Initiative,” the letter reads. “Citizens who have been unknowingly fooled into signing the petition are encouraged to contact the lieutenant governor’s office…or their county clerk’s office to obtain the form needed to remove their names from the petition.”
The reason given by the Utah Medical Association for their opposition to the voter initiative is that they believe it is being used as a ploy to expand access to recreational marijuana.
“[T]his initiative is not about medicine,” the letter reads. “Supporters have used images and stories of suffering patients to disguise their true aim: opening another market for their product and paving the way for recreational use of cannabis in Utah.”
If the initiative is approved, the Utah Medical Association claims, cannabis will be made available to children and to anyone who says their use is medicinal, regardless of whether they are diagnosed with an illness. While the initiative’s language does allow for the parents of minors to approve their use of medical cannabis, it outlines that a medical card must be obtained by anyone before they are allowed to purchase products from dispensaries.
In order to obtain a medical card, patients will have to receive a recommendation from a physician. There will be about a dozen qualifying conditions such as HIV, PTSD and chronic pain, but doctors will also be given the discretion to approve additional conditions. Once a physician’s recommendation is received, medical cards will be approved and issued by the Utah Department of Health. The initiative also provides guidelines for labeling, inspections, and distribution.
Still, the Utah Medical Association believes that cannabis, in its plant form, cannot be properly regulated due to inconsistencies in its THC and CBD content across crops and strains. This, it says, makes the plant form of medical marijuana dangerous. The statement comes at a time when the national counterpart for the Utah Medical Association, the American Medical Association, released a study showing that cannabis can effectively lower opioid overdose rates.
In addition to their health concerns, some physicians, the Utah Medical Association writes, may come to Utah to prescribe medical cannabis for the money and without consideration for their patients. They point out that the Utah Medical Association represents the majority of physicians currently in the state.
“UMA is not concerned about recent surveys that seem to show support for the concept of medical marijuana,” they wrote, referring to recent polling which has shown that more than 60 percent of the state’s residents approve of medical marijuana if prescribed by a doctor.
When it comes to the initiative itself, a recent Utah Policy poll found that 77 percent of Utahns support it, suggesting that it may be approved by a landslide if it were to appear on the ballot in the fall.
The initiative has currently gathered more than the required state-wide signatures, having collected more than 122,000 out of the necessary 113,000. But an extra roadblock remains under the state’s guidelines in which organizers have to receive the support of 10 percent of voters from the last election in 26 out of the 29 voting districts. Only a handful of districts remain with just a couple thousand signatures left to gather before the deadline of April 16th.
The Utah Medical Association criticized supporters of the initiative, including the Libertas Institute, a libertarian think tank based in the state. Libertas replied on Twitter, saying:
The Utah Medical Association also praised Utah Governor Gary Herbert for his opposition to the initiative in a letter he shared on March 29th. The governor has said that he would “actively oppose” the initiative, though it’s not clear whether he would do anything to stop its implementation if voters approved it.
The governor has instead shown his support for two bills he signed into law last month which established a far more restrictive medical marijuana program. Under HB195 and HB197, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food will have control of the distribution and cultivation of cannabis while a limited number of terminally ill patients will be given the “right to try” cannabis for treatment.